Of course, these percentages vary for each individual. But the fact remains that we communicate a large part of any message nonverbally. Let’s discuss these aspects of communication so we can learn how to send the right message.
Communicate Effectively Using Body Language
Your body language sends a message. We subconsciously signal to others how we feel about a situation, how we plan to respond, or even whether we’re really interested or not. Take the effort to incorporate some of these strategies. You’ll be amazed at how much more effective you become as a communicator!
Read Your Audience – Look for Cues
One of the best ways to start off your interaction, whether it’s a conversation over coffee or an office presentation, is to take stock of what the other side is saying to you nonverbally. Are people yawning, checking their smartphone, or looking away? Whether you’re boring them, or they have something else on their mind, this is a sign you’re not getting your point across. If possible, you will need to regather their attention so you can ensure everyone is on board.
This also comes in handy for the practice of “mirroring.” Studies show that people are much more likely to listen to, and agree with, your message if you mirror their own body language (provided they aren’t falling asleep). All you have to do is notice their body language and recreate it yourself. This method works best when you use it to reinforce their positive body language. However, avoid crossing your own arms or turning away. Keep your movements subtle, so they don’t feel like you’re mocking them!
Recently, while browsing luxury vehicles, I caught myself nodding in agreement with a skilled saleswoman. She continued nodding while she got me to agree on features of the vehicle I loved. The combination of her positive vocal inflections, confident body movement, and nodding in agreement until I followed along helped me to agree with the reasons I needed this fancy new automobile. I already loved the car, but she persisted in getting me to nod in agreement. As we discussed it, she helped me to feel as though the things she was saying were my idea.
Your Eyes Tell A Lot Of The Story
It has been said that our eyes are the windows to our soul. Intentionally or accidentally, our eyes communicate our feelings. People watch your eyes, even if they’re not a body language expert, to make sure that you’re paying attention and you understand them. Friendly eye contact is an easy way to establish trust with others. They can easily see that you have nothing to hide. Avoiding eye contact may lead people to believe you’re shifty and untrustworthy. Note that this holds true in Western cultures, but people in the Middle East and the Far East consider it to be rude.
We can probably all think of someone whose eyes light up a room. Maintaining eye contact doesn’t need to be creepy. Glaring or staring can make someone uncomfortable. But many skilled speakers communicate emotions with their eyes. If you aren’t familiar with this skill yet, here’s a good thing to practice:
- Start off by looking in the mirror and think of a situation that made you happy.
- Smile gently and focus on smiling with your eyes. If you see crow’s feet (wrinkles at the edges of your eyes), that’s a good thing.
- Hold your hand or a piece of paper between your face and the mirror. With your mouth and nose covered, so only your eyes are visible, try to smile with your eyes.
- If you’re doing it right, you will actually feel happier as you make this subtle facial expression.
It may take some practice, but smiling with your eyes shows that you’re friendly, approachable, and confident. Models and actors are often taught to smile with their eyes. It makes them appear more relatable and the products they’re promoting more desirable as a result.
Take Note Of Defensive Behavior
People express displeasure in many ways, but one of the most common is a defensive demeanor. Pay attention if someone folds their arms, turns their shoulders away, or starts looking around and ignoring your face. Take stock of what you just said and how you said it. Something that just came up in the conversation is making them uncomfortable! This is a chance for you to check what you’re saying, or you can use it as your cue to ask what’s wrong. Body language is usually a subconscious manifestation of our feelings. Tread lightly and avoid pushing them too far. If you pay attention you can spot a pain point for someone and use that opening to understand each other better.
Confident Posture Commands Respect
We’ve all seen “the sloucher.” Their presence seems small, weak, and (at worst) useless. If you think this might be your habit, stand in front of a mirror. Relax and stand naturally before you take a look. Note your shoulders, your back, your neck, and anything else that sticks out. It will probably feel awkward at first, but that’s ok! Once you’ve identified your problem areas, you can make a conscious effort to correct them. Just imagine the difference a good posture will make on your business and personal relationships!
A straightforward and open posture tells others that you are bold and ready to take on the day. Your posture will also influence your own confidence! Psychologists tell us that simply taking “power poses” (standing or sitting in an open and relaxed position) decreases stress hormones. It also increases behavior associated with confidence and authority. Try it yourself – stand like Superman (feet shoulder width apart, hands at your hips, and back straight) for 2 to 3 minutes and feel the difference! Just be careful about doing this in the middle of a conversation, since it can make you look very aggressive.
Build Trust With Your Body Language
Body language is a great way to build trust with your audience. As mentioned earlier, eye contact is very important in Western culture. It communicates that you’re earnestly listening and connecting with someone. Don’t forget other basics like a firm handshake and a warm smile. Focus on smiling with your eyes as we discussed earlier. Avoid squirming around or touching your face if you can, as these things will make others feel less at ease. Nodding on positive points, from either yourself or others, reinforces the idea that you agree or approve of the topic at hand. When someone says something you disagree with, a confused look is safer than an angry one. This allows you to avoid a defensive state of confrontation and focus on clarification instead.
If you’re speaking in front of a crowd, keep your head up and your gestures controlled but open. Use eye contact to connect with individuals in the crowd, but don’t linger so long that you make someone uncomfortable. Coordinate your gestures and body movements with your words to keep your message organized and effective. Practice beforehand in front of a mirror. Or, make a recording of yourself on your smartphone to see how you come across. A recording is especially helpful. You can check your words, your body language, and your tone of voice all at once. Make sure you’re using all the tools at your disposal to send the right message!
Your Tone Of Voice Frames The Message
As you talk, you are sending out strong signals in the way you use your voice. Your delivery can massively help or hinder as you try to send the right message. How you speak (inflection, emphasis, rhythm, pitch, etc.) communicates your attitude. It can color your words with emotion and clarity.
The tone of your voice can range from frigid and aloof to warm and welcoming. Your tone can convey either criticizing or supportive feelings, even if your words by themselves are rather neutral. Your tone conveys emotions, which will impact others as they compare it to their own response. Practice controlling your tone to send the right message. You can do this with a simple phrase like “Hello.” Try saying it in different tones such as friendly, aggressive, demeaning, playful, confused, etc. Listen to how each one sounds. Work to emulate the emotion you want your audience to hear.
We train our Best Cellular employees how to answer customer service calls to make sure each caller receives a warm, inviting welcome. When the phone rings, our employees stand up and smile before starting each call. I often receive feedback on how friendly our customer service specialists are, and a large part of the reason customers feel this way is because our employees smile and show excitement to speak with each caller.
Timing Within Your Message
One simple trick to get your audience’s attention is to actually stop speaking. This causes a break in the stream of words flowing at them, which makes people retarget on your message. Naturally, they want to understand why you stopped. You can use the silence to give them a chance to digest a difficult concept, or a “pregnant pause” to give suspense before you drop a bombshell. The secondary benefit of a well-timed pause is that you have a moment to gather your thoughts. Sprinkle a few pauses into your speech the next time you have to give a presentation and see how well it can draw in your audience.
Another tactic, especially for public speaking, is repetition. Don’t overdo it, but if you want to place special emphasis on a specific thought, just repeat it. You can even change up your tone the second time to stress a particular word. Many teachers know that repetition is key to learning. This technique not only grabs attention for a point at the moment but also helps your audience remember it. Use timing within your conversation to highlight your thoughts and ensure that you frame your message properly.
Avoiding Filler Words
Meaningless words or phrases that we insert as part of our normal speech are called filler words. They usually stand in for the fact that we are thinking of the next thing to say, but they can easily make you look unprepared. Unfortunately, a few shaky um’s, ah’s, or like’s will quickly derail your listeners, making them feel unsure of your authority or knowledge. An easy fix is to take a deep breath every time you run out of words, let your brain and your mouth sync back up, and then continue. As mentioned above, a simple pause can often play in your favor.
A simple way to avoid filler words is to record yourself speaking and review the video before giving the same speech again. You can apply this practice to prepare for not only a public speech but also a difficult conversation at work. Build a habit of taking a short break instead of inserting fillers. You will come across much clearer and more authoritative to your audience.
Connect With Your Audience
It might seem obvious, but people are not mindless robots. We tend to connect with emotional messages more easily than a message based simply on facts. According to Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and a longtime student of persuasion techniques:
“…people are more influenced by visual persuasion, emotion, repetition, and simplicity than they are by details and facts.”
It’s important to make sure you connect with your audience in order to communicate your message clearly.
Help Your Words Express Your Message
Phrasing is another way to color your words and make your message clear. Authors often rewrite their thoughts many times, not to change the message, but to make sure they use proper phrasing. Just like vocal tone, rephrasing the same sentence will change the emotional impact.
For example, compare “Thanks for your business!” versus “Thank you for choosing Best Cellular!” One sentence tells the customer that we appreciate them for their money. The other one says that they had a choice (indicating their own independence) and we’re glad that they chose our company. It may seem like a simple change, but a few words can make a world of difference in how your message comes across.
Correct The Problem, Not The Person
As a leader, there are times when you need to reprimand or correct someone. You’ll find it much more effective to sandwich criticism between a couple of sincere compliments. This “sandwich technique” helps people to swallow negative (but necessary) criticism. It also helps you to think about their positive characteristics, which helps you avoid coming across as harsh.
If you need to point out a flaw or correct an issue, be careful not to attack someone’s character. You can often attribute wrong behavior to lack of knowledge or experience, not malice. Give someone “the benefit of the doubt” before jumping to conclusions and assuming their motivations. By focusing on the problem itself, you can bypass someone’s instinct to defend their actions and get to the heart of the issue.
Give Others A Good Reputation To Live Up To
In the book How to Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie says something that I try to think of often.
“Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. Use encouragement.”
Make it a habit to point out the good in others. If you’re constantly telling someone that they’re a winner or they are good at something, they will often work to match the good you see in them. On the other hand, repetitive negative words can convince someone they’re a failure. Be mindful of whether you’re connecting with positive or negative feelings in someone else. Consciously emphasize positive characteristics in others, more than it seems like you need to. You may be surprised to see the improvement to your relationships and the performance of others.
As you can see, the focus of your speech, the tone of voice you use, and your body language all combine to get your message across. Some of these techniques will take practice over time, but with a little bit of effort you can be a positive and powerful communicator!