With all the hype and emphasis on the obvious means of human communication such as speech, obvious or overt movements and written messages (whether handwritten, emailed or texted), few people ever give much thought to how powerful the non-verbal signals are that they are giving out to others. Quite often, when we least expect, these non-verbal signals can override our conscious efforts or even contradict what we are saying to others. This has happened to all of us – we end up confused when the actual impression conveyed by us to someone was the exact opposite of what we intended. Unfortunately for us, we frequently misjudge how observant others are, and we end up in the unwanted position of conveying mixed signals to the other person. We are at times not even aware of the non-verbal signals we are sending.
These non-verbal signals can fall into many categories.
- Eye inflections
- Facial expressions
- Tone of voice
- Other inadvertent or instinctive actions
These signals are (more often than not) a physical reflection of how we actually feel and our subconscious manages to convey its true feelings this way. It is the body’s way of coming to terms with hypocrisy in action.
How We Do It?
We have been in situations where etiquette or good manners dictate that we be polite to someone whom we may not feel so kindly towards. Although we may be saying the right things, and for all intents and purposes, being nice, our non-verbal cues can betray our true feelings. We can be so emotionally hyped at the time that we may not realize we are doing it. But we send some very strong vibes to others.
Fire and Ice
Even the most polite remarks, if (unbeknownst to you) they are accompanied by glares or icy stares, clenched fists or a rude or clipped tone, inevitably lose their intended purpose of pacifying, apologizing or showing proper respect to the other person. We can also witness this scenario when representatives of two rival countries, rival teams or opposing factions meet and have a forced conversation. The hardened looks of mistrust, the glares, the tightening of the jaws and the grinding of the teeth.
We feel we have done our moral duty when we visit someone and say the right things. However, the way we say them can render them useless. We could be adding insult to injury.
Times Have Changed
Unfortunately, times have changed and not for the better. Not surprisingly, our values and behavior have been directly affected. No longer do we actually respect our elders. That is considered old-fashioned and meek. This observation is not intended to target any one group, but older colleagues, older friends and senior people are routinely ignored and not given deference or importance, particularly by teenagers and even young adults. If you are on the receiving end, this hurts more than you can ever imagine.
It must be acknowledged that personal circumstances such as disagreements, bad news or other stress-causing events that shake you up or otherwise disturb you can make you more sensitive than usual.
It is very easy at such times to take it out on other people. Suffice it to say that at times of stress, good sense can go out the window. We start emitting negative vibes and these can be felt by all who interact with us.
On the Professional Front
When we attend a job interview or a meeting with a client, non-verbal cues can dominate the atmosphere and all our scripts and preparation end up taking a back seat. If you are trying to project fake enthusiasm for a job you don’t really want to apply for or to promote a product you do not really believe in, it will show. No matter how good an actor you are, your non-verbal cues will up and betray you. Your boredom will manifest itself between sentences. Your body posture will drop or you will fidget unnecessarily. You will avoid eye contact. You will sound as if someone has put a gun to your head.
Our day to day relationships are hugely impacted by non-verbal signals. Sighs, getting up and leaving, looking here and there, changing the subject – everything conveys our true unwillingness, disapproval, disagreement or whatever the case may be. We may think we have satisfied a friend, a colleague or a spouse with our replies but we underestimate their observation of these non-verbal signals that accompany everything we say and do.
We easily embarrass ourselves at times and a lot of us end up putting our foot in our mouth. Similarly, the sincerity of our subsequent apologies has to be apparent in our expressions, gestures and tone. If it isn’t, we have really not convinced the other person.
Give It a Second Thought
The next time we carelessly convey mixed signals to someone, give it a second thought. It may be something as vital as a tremendous job opportunity, a marriage proposal or an important patch-up after a breakup.
Life doesn’t always give us second opportunities to mend broken fences or make our first impression. It is a good idea to be aware of the less thought-about subtleties as well as the obvious.
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