Have you ever noticed that what goes unsaid often says so much?
Albert Mehrabian is the UCLA professor who uncovered some famous research findings on non-verbal communication. He found that when people were asked to talk about their feelings to each other, the non-verbal content accounted for 93% of the conversation.
In business, law, and medicine, this observation has gotten a lot of mileage. Body language is taught as a way of building alliances and keeping the door open between doctors and patients, bosses and employees, colleagues and clients.
How can this same observation about body language help you?
Non-verbal language is a key way we convey to others that we are paying attention. In our culture of emailing, texting, linking in, and tweeting, it’s easy to forget the profound impact of not only the words we say, but how we say them.
Here are some ways to say it better, before you say a word.
1. Use your eyes. Start with maintaining eye contact with the other person. Nothing says, “I don’t want to be here” faster than looking around the room. If you are uncomfortable with eye contact, practice building up the habit slowly. Start with a few seconds, and add to the time until you are more at ease. Throughout a conversation, you should aim to keep a steady, easy eye contact with the other person, without staring intensely.
2. Bring down the barriers. There are many ways in which we can unconsciously wall ourselves off from other people. Folding hands across the chest is a common way, as is creating an upside-down L formation with one leg crossed over the other. Try resting your hands at your sides and uncrossing your legs. Removing objects between you and the other person is another way to further bring down the walls.
3. Step in the right direction. Which way are your feet pointing? Your attention tends to follow the direction of your feet. So if your feet are pointing out the door, gently re-direct them towards your partner. They’ll notice it, and so will you.
4. Relax your hands. Our hands are expressive. Tightly closed fists or hands clasped together in a tight grip will feel different (and convey a different message) than when your hands are resting in a relaxed, open position.
5. Remove the mask. Are your hands covering your face as you speak to someone else? Not literally, I hope! But hands or fingers around the mouth, chin or facial areas can be an unconscious attempt to hide or hold back. If you find yourself doing this, consider bringing your hands down and figure out whether you really need to hide or if you can be more open in your attitude towards the other person.
6. Smile. A classic that never goes out of style. A smile is the universal signal for “I enjoy being with you.” It remains one of the most appealing welcome signs we can put out for someone else, and sends a signal, loud and clear.
This week’s self-reflection: Do you make an effort to be fully present when you are interacting with another person? Are you aware of how your body language affects them?
This week’s call to action: As you go about your day, take steps to engage the people around you more fully through non-verbal language. Start out with one or two of the steps above, until they become more natural. Add to your repertoire consistently. Over time, you will be able to speak a whole new language.
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