Good interpersonal communication skills can go a long way in enhancing many aspects of one’s life. Without quality communication, personal relationships can suffer and professional connections with coworkers and colleagues may never develop. The kindest, most well-intended message may be misread if delivered without attention to the mode and manner of communication. And, in the workforce, the best, most innovative ideas may fall on deaf ears if not expressed in an appropriate, professional manner.
Research shows that articulating messages through verbal statements represents only one aspect of our ever-changing, complex means of communication. In fact, most studies suggest that the majority of our face to face communications with others are conducted or enhanced through nonverbal cues, including hand gestures, body language and facial expressions. The old adage that “actions speak louder than words” rings true today more than ever, when centuries of cultural development have provided us with countless ways to express ourselves without ever uttering a word.
Unfortunately, in our fast-paced society, where messages are more often texted or emailed than expressed directly to others during face to face encounters, too many people ignore the many ways that soft skills, or character traits that help us connect on a personal level with others, can help facilitate the communication between two people. Recognizing the importance of these subtle, and sometimes unspoken, aspects of communication can help you make the most of your interactions with friends, family, neighbors and coworkers.
1 – Let Them Know You’re Listening
Being a good listener involves much more than just being a captive audience. Blankly staring at someone who’s talking to you won’t convince them that you’re paying attention; in fact, it’s just the opposite. If you want someone to feel like you’re engaged in what they’re saying – to feel like you comprehend and appreciate their insights, you need to give them some feedback. Simple nonverbal feedback, such as the nodding of the head to signify understanding, may do the trick. Subtle facial expressions, such as a smile to communicate satisfaction or a pensive gaze to convey thoughtfulness, can also show someone who you’re interested and engaged in what he has to say. In addition, posing questions after information has been shared shows that you consider the speaker’s point of view worthy of careful analysis.
2 – Never Underestimate the Importance of Eye Contact
While blank stares aren’t appropriate if you want to establish rapport with someone during a face to face encounter, good eye contact can be crucial to effective interpersonal communication. A lack of eye contact can give the impression that you may be evading, that you’re uncomfortable or that you’re hiding something. In contrast, a stern stare can convey intimidation. A healthy dose of eye contact, along with a friendly facial expression, suggests that you’re interested, open, and ready to communicate.
3 – Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
Nonverbal hand gestures, body language and facial expressions can be extremely helpful to add emphasis in conversations, but they must be used appropriately. For example, if a person’s message is upbeat and positive, the content may get obscured if the delivery is dour and dry, if the speaker’s facial expressions appear emotionless, or if his body language is off. Any time the content of one’s message does not match the speaker’s nonverbal actions, listeners may get distracted and the communication and understanding may break down.
4 – The Friendly Factor
While turning on the charm might not be appropriate in every face to face encounter, maintaining a general friendly, respectful demeanor often sets the stage for effective communication. And that may be true even in confrontational or tense situations. Although two people may not see eye to eye, letting your frustration show through nonverbal cues or an angry tone typically won’t accomplish anything. One of the easiest ways of showing respect, whether it is during a face to face encounter with a friend or a foe, is to refer to others by name. As insignificant as that may sound, studies have shown that specifically addressing others by name during a conversation makes them feel valued and respected. Also, throwing in a handshake here and there never hurts. In our culture, shaking hands is considered a sign of respect and is a friendly way to greet friends and strangers alike.
5 – Getting In Touch with Involuntary Signals
While gestures and facial expressions can enhance a conversation, some involuntary forms of nonverbal expression can hinder communication. For example, embarrassment or discomfort may manifest itself in a flushed face for some people. Yawning, eye rubbing or a slumped posture may indicate fatigue, and those can all be signs of boredom too. Slight hand tremors or sweaty palms can reveal nervousness or anxiety. In many instances, these kinds involuntary cues are unavoidable or difficult to control, and they often convey information we would prefer not to share. Therefore, making sure you’re aware of how your body reacts to different social environments and stimuli will help you cope and take control of the situation.
Tim Eyre is Interactive Marketing Manager at Extra Space Storage Tim helps his customers store seasonal equipment when it is not being used for outdoor activities or home improvement projects. You can find Tim on LinkedIn and Self Storage Facebook Page
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