In today’s world of Skype, texting, and rapid-fire emails, we often forget ourselves in personal conversations. When we speak indirectly through technology, we don’t have to worry about our posture, our body language, or that we are thumb-fiddlers. But when faced with a physical run-in, we must remember that communication isn’t only about words. Our entire body is involved in communication. That includes body language, such as crossed arms (a “well-defended” gesture that is usually experienced by others as being unfriendly); facial expressions, such as rolled eyes, frowns, and smirks; and nonverbal vocalizations, such as sighs. Consider the power of nonverbal communication in the following example:
You are walking down the corridor at work and the CEO is walking toward you in the opposite direction. As the two of you approach each other, you say to the CEO, “Can I see you for a couple of minutes?”
The CEO, in a welcoming, positive tone says, “Sure, why not?” and, at the same time, looks at his watch.
What is your assessment of the CEO’s actual willingness to talk with you right then? You probably decide that “now isn’t the best time.” Why? Because there’s a conflict between the verbal and nonverbal messages. The CEO’s words said ‘yes,’ but his actions said ‘no.’ We tend to believe what we see, not what we hear. That is, we believe the nonverbal more than the verbal.
As humans, we often overlook that we are, by nature, intuitive beings. We can sense and notice things without actively trying, and are affected by how others respond to us. People notice when we’re only half-listening. They notice when we’re just going through the motions, as opposed to engaging on a personal level. We must pay careful attention to the cues and signals we send to others. We may say all the right phrases and ask all the right questions. But, if our verbal and nonverbal communication conflict, people will notice and they will close themselves off accordingly.
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