Improve your interpersonal skills with non-verbal communication
Throughout the day people constantly exchange information, conveying messages to get their point across to a receiver, whether it be in our work or private life. But are you actively using all the tools in the communication box? And could you perhaps become even better at expressing yourself with non-verbal communication?
What is the deal with non-verbal communication?
In face-to-face exchanges, and our continuous attempt to construct meaning for our receivers, we use verbal and non-verbal communication. The verbal communication is the actual words we use to express ourselves, whereas non-verbal communication is the intonation we use, for instance tone of voice, and the body language we use to support our words.
Often we are not aware of how we use each aspect of communication to influence our receivers, and perhaps more importantly, how the wrong balance between the aspects can damage the perception of our messages. Say you where to explain a complex topic to a colleague, do a presentation for your department or just deliver a message to your partner – it is vital to communicate effectively. But how do we actually use each aspect of communication, non-verbal and verbal, to its full potential? And which one is in fact more effective, when we want to get our message across?
Using the 7% rule
In 1971 a researcher named Albert Mehrabian published the book “Silent Messages”, explaining the importance of non-verbal communication based on a number of studies.
His famous 7% rule states that tremendous 93% of our communication is actually non-verbal (body language 55% and intonation 38%), which means that only 7% of our communication is what we say with words.
Does that mean that what we say is in fact less important than how we say it?
But it is nonetheless very important to realize the need for these non-verbal elements, as they have a huge say in getting our message across. My interpretation of the relationship between verbal and non-verbal communication can be viewed as a mutual relationship, a symbiosis if you will, between all three different aspects of interpersonal communication.
I have visualized this relationship in the following model:
The dark blue part is where all three aspects are used – working with each other to create strong interpersonal communication.
So how do we do that exactly?
Giving a speech
Let's take the infamous speech as an example. When you want to make people understand your message, you need to deliver it in a way that people will understand and remember. One of the greatest challenges of our hyper complex society, with an abundance of information (potentially causing information-overload), is that we fear simplicity.
We tend to overcomplicate things, as the simple solution becomes inadequate. Great speakers are aware of the need for simplicity, and know how to make the complex sound very simple. A true master of this discipline is Steve Jobs.
Beware of your tonality
Our unconscious minds pick up so much more than just the words though, and that is why intonation and body language is so important. As a speaker you should therefore use different tonalities to focus your attention towards the most essential elements of your speech. Nothing is more life draining than a monotonic speaker - no matter the content of the speech.
How to use your body language
An open body language is equally vital. Standing with your arms across the chest, for instance, symbolizes an undesirable closedness that the audience will pick up immediately. Your arms should instead be helping you to express what you are saying:
Do you have three different arguments? Count it on your fingers.
Are you describing a development? Use your hands to show the movement from point A to point B.
In a natural position your arms should be relaxed and along your sides with a bit of bend in the elbow joint, and with your palms facing outwards towards the audience.
Furthermore, you shoulders should be back, with the chest forward and your head held high. This will give you a confident starting point and open up your body, sending unconscious signals to your receiver that you are open, reliable and believe in what you are saying, which will ultimately effect the reception of your message and your appeal as a speaker.
It is important to look at much more than just what you say in the daily interactions, meetings or even speeches, where information is exchanged or delivered.
And remember, in communication theory the receiver will always interpret your message, so make sure to use your whole arsenal of verbal and non-verbal tools to influence your receiver.