Some people wonder why they need communication training when they have talking since they were knee high to a grasshopper. But communication is more than words; and even though we may not be conscious of the non-verbal aspects of our communication, what we do has just as much impact as what we say.

I have spoken before of (1)Albert Mehrabian’s famous study which showed that words conveyed only a small part of our message. The unspoken communication impacted on the listeners to a much greater extent than had been believed. In fact it is the non-verbal component of our communication which affects our credibility rating with our audience.

But what exactly constitutes “Body Language”; well today I am using information from (2)Michael Argyle, a British social psychologist whose work gives us room for more detailed analysis.

Argyle lists at least eight kinds of social acts which concern interpersonal communications; and the first relates to Bodily Contact.

Bodily Contact and beside aggressive or sexual contacts, there are many other ways in which bodily contact affects the way in which we communicate; and cultural differences can impede on the way our communication is received. A handshake or a kiss for greeting? In Australia it is more likely to be a handshake, but in Europe an enthusiastic double or even triple cheek kiss is the norm. Gradually this type of greeting is becoming more common here between women on first meeting, but I haven’t yet seen many men indulging – but, hey if I’m wrong come visit Trischel, we’d love to meet you!

Physical Proximity – we all know about the differences between people’s personal space, and the relationships that they allow into that private space. Again, cultural differences can have a great impact on what feels comfortable. Arabs and Latin Americans stand very close, while the English, Scots and Swedes are probably the most distant. So if a business man from England meets the business man from Saudi Arabia there may be some boundaries that need to be negotiated.

Orientation – Where and with whom you sit conveys an important message about your status; and the type of relationship you have with the people around you. Sitting next to the most important person in the room means that you borrow his status while you do so. Sitting across the table from him indicates a subordinate position. People sitting on a stage, talking from a lectern or merely standing while others are seated are perceived as being in the more dominant position.

Posture – The way in which we stand while talking to somehow can signal our attitude towards the conversation. Standing with the head up, chin forward and hands on hips can signal aggression, and an unwillingness to agree or comply. Sitting back in a chair with feet on the table and hands behind the head is a well recognised sign of domination.

Gestures – Gestures are the deliberate movement, usually of the hands and arms, which are used to demonstrate what it is we are saying. Gestures occur naturally while we are speaking if we are engaged with our topic and are enthusiastic about it.

Head Movements – One of the most common gesture used between communicators is the head nod, or shake. Head nodding by the listener encourages the speaker to continue with the knowledge that they are in agreement so far. A shake of the head usually indicates that the listener is no longer in agreement and the speaker may choose to clarify. However, because humans are complicated creatures, if the topic is couched in the negative (“You wouldn’t believe what he did next!) a head shake may indicated agreement. Work that one out.

Facial Expression – Most of us would get a feeling for the mood of a speaker by watching their facial expressions. Many different emotional messages can be conveyed by facial expressions, and a careful speaker would keep monitoring their listener’s face to keep a check on the emotional response to his communication.

Eye Movement – Argyle’s work has studied the way eye movement is used to convey information between people. Emotional connection is also made by eye movement whether it be just a glance or a full contact.

However, in business or in public speaking there is a fine line between establishing a rapport with the listener and engaging in hostile staring! Too little can be classified as evasive, but too much can generate a feeling of discomfort and anxiety in our victim.

While there are other non verbal ways to communicate such as the way we dress and the colours we use, it is the ones listed above which have a real impact on the way we communicate in both our social and professional sphere.

So while we all can talk, the question we should ask ourselves is “Can I communicate properly?” In most cases the answer will be that we don’t to the best of our ability. So contact the communication experts at Trischel and find out how we can help you improve your skills.

Michele @ Trischel

(1) Albert Mehrabian, Communication Without Words, in ‘Psychology Today 2’ September 1968

(2) Michael Argyle, The Psychology of Interpersonal Behaviour, Penguin Books UK, 1972

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