Pay attention to nonverbal signals
The way you look, listen, move, and react to another person tells them more about how you're feeling than words alone can. Nonverbal communication, or body language, includes facial expressions, body movement and gestures, eye contact, posture, the tone of your voice, and even your muscle tension and breathing.
Developing the ability to understand and use nonverbal communication can help you connect with others, express what you really mean, navigate challenging situations, and build better relationships at home and work.
- You can enhance effective communication by using open body language; arms uncrossed, standing with an open stance or sitting on the edge of your seat, and maintaining eye contact with the person you're talking to.
- You can also use body language to emphasize or enhance your verbal message, patting a friend on the back while complimenting them on their success, for example, or pounding your fists to underline your message.
Improve how you read nonverbal communication
Be aware of individual differences. People from different countries and cultures do use different nonverbal communication gestures, so it's important to take age, culture, religion, gender, and emotional state into account when reading body language signals. An American teen, a grieving widow, or an Asian businessman, for example, are likely to use different non-verbal signs.
Look at nonverbal communication signals as a group. Don't over interpret single gestures or nonverbal cues. Consider all of the nonverbal signals you receive, from eye contact to tone of voice to body language. Anyone can slip up occasionally and let eye contact slip, for example, or briefly cross their arms without meaning to. Consider the signals as a whole to get a better appreciation of a person.
Improve how you deliver nonverbal communication
Use nonverbal signals that match up with your words rather than contradict them. If you say one thing, but your body language indicates something else, your listener may feel confused or suspect that you're being deceitful. For example, sitting with your arms crossed and shaking your head does not match words which are telling the other person that you agree with what they said.
Adjust your nonverbal signals according to the context. The tone of your voice, for example, should be different when you're addressing a child from when addressing a group of adults. Similarly, take into account the emotional state and cultural background of the person with whom you are interacting.
Avoid negative body language. Instead, use body language to convey positive feelings, even when you're not actually experiencing them. If you're nervous about a situation,a job interview, important presentation, or first date, you can use positive body language to signal confidence, even though you do not feel it. Instead of tentatively entering a room with your head down, eyes averted, and sliding into a chair, try standing tall with your shoulders back, smiling and maintaining eye contact, and delivering a firm handshake. It will make you feel confident and help to put the other person at ease.