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Have you ever wondered why it is that what you are trying to communicate to someone else isn’t actually being heard—or why it’s being misinterpreted entirely? It’s like, no matter how you approach the situation, your message just isn’t getting across. It may have to do with charisma and connection—or lack thereof—more so than with the language patterns you are using.
One thing to consider is the commonly quoted statistic on nonverbal communication—93 percent of communication is conveyed nonverbally. Dr. Albert Mehrabian is known for having conducted two research studies (Mehrabian & Wiener, 1967 and Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967) on nonverbal communication. His findings pointed to posture, gestures, and facial expression as having the highest impact (55 percent) in conveying our messages, whereas only 38 percent is through tonality, leaving a mere 7 percent of our communication being conveyed through the words we speak.
While what you say is important, how you say it and your physiology will convey more information than the words you use. Think of a time when a friend tells you, “Everything is fine,” but you can see by their facial expression or their body posture that things are not fine. Clearly their words are stating that things are fine and yet you know they’re not. This shows that when your body language and your words are saying different things, body language will more often than not trump the language you use.
Without getting into the details of context, clusters, and congruence (known as the 3 C’s of nonverbal communication), let’s assume for a moment this is true. One contributing factor is that words mean different things to different people and, depending on how something is said, it can come across much differently than intended. Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s not what you’re saying, it’s how you’re saying it”? Sometimes the words you speak are incongruent with your body language (e.g., facial expression, gestures, eye contact).
Can you remember a time when you were being scolded as a child and your only option to show your disdain (because you didn’t dare talk back) was to cross your arms indignantly? This is an example of a time when you may have purposely used your body language to communicate your feelings. In other instances, you may be intent on conveying a point while having a certain expression on your face, only to hear, “Why are you looking at me like that?” You may have thought to yourself, “looking at you like what?” Without realizing it, the look on your face relayed a different message than what you had intended.
The point is that most of us aren’t consciously aware of how impactful these things can be. Nonverbal communication is automatic and, for the most part, primarily unconscious; meaning, we aren’t consciously aware of how we are standing or what our facial expression is when we are listening—intently or otherwise. Our body language is so powerful that it’s capable of hinting to—or directly displaying—our emotional state of mind, which directly impacts how we are being perceived by others.
Unless you’re someone who has been trained in the art of nonverbal communication, chances are that you’re not hitting the mark every time you want to effectively communicate. Here are some ways to begin honing your communication skills specifically through the utilization of body language.
Keep in mind that everyone interprets communication in different ways. We tend to communicate with others in the specific way that we want to be communicated with. Meaning, we believe that everyone should be the same way we are. That is simply not the case. Each person has a unique way of expressing and receiving communication. To be consciously aware of this helps you to navigate the amazing art of communication and, more specifically, communication through body language.
Overall, we are always doing the best we can with the resources we have and we can always improve. Keep in mind that intention guides our non-verbal communication, and that if you speak from the heart and do your best to be flexible, you will increase the likelihood of conveying that across the board.