What we call non verbal communication actually speaks loudly and clearly for folks in the counseling business.
I have read that 90% of our communication to others is non verbal, and I agree.
The problem I see with separating verbal and non verbal communication is that the reduction implies that one can know one without the other.
I think context is very important, and you need to listen to the words and watch the body and hear the tone of voice as all are involved in communication.
Don't forget for communication to happen, someone has to listen and observe and formulate a response.
If someone is speaking to me, I need to create a listening belief and sustain it, and as I am receiving the message, interpret it, and perhaps double check that I have gotten the senders message/intent correctly by reflecting it back to him or her.
During the reflection, which I am usually able to create peacefully, because I need to stay calm to listen, I can address any confusion which results from what we usually call a mixed message, or an incongruency.
Any example I use in my domestic violence psychoeducational groups is by yelling the words, "I Love You!" in a snarling voice or growl while pulling my teeth back as if to bite.
I ask my clients which message they pay more attention to, the verbal "I Love You", or the non verbal communication of danger conveyed by expression, volume, and facial expression and too a person, they report the words are ignored and the non verbal communication heard and attended to.
So in the reflection part of your communication, you can question whether or not you are 'hearing' and 'observing'the message accurately.
There is some excellent research out there in regards to non verbal communications.
When I am engaged in communication though, I want to talk to and be heard by the other person, rather than mentally run through a check list of 'does he or she like me' criteria.
Therefore I am going to pay more attention to my emotional response to the message than a check list, and if I find myself angry, I can relax, and ask for change, and if I find myself afraid, I can ask for reassurance of my safety, and if I am joyful, or excited, I can just continue to enjoy.
You may not think that it is possible to ask folks who are demonstrating aggressive behavior to stop, but I work with folks charged with aggressive behavior, and I have reported feeling fear, and asked for change and my speakers have listened.
So having said all that, are there any experts out there that we can look to for guidance in interpreting non verbal communications?
Helen Fisher,Ph.D., Paul Ekman,Ph.D., and Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent are three that come to mind.
Ekman has been studing facial expressions for 30 years, and Helen Fisher is an anthropologist who has been studying human mating behavior for 30 years.
Dr. Fisher could walk in to a coffee shop and describe for us the stage of courtship that the male and female participants are in based on the behaviors they are demonstrating, all of which will be conveyed non verbally.
Dr. Ekman would look to their facial expressions and be able to tell what feelings those mating dancers are feeling based on their expression, and even whether those participants were trying to mask their feelings, but you and I would also have a feel for masking if we were talking to the participants.
Remember facial expressions may pass across the human face, according to Ekman, in 1/25th second, which is twice as fast as I can blink my eyes.
If you are curious about the work of Ekman, Navarro, or Fisher, please click on any of the links below for more information.
Dr. Fisher is now the Chief Scientific Officer for Chemistry.com, so if you sign up, you can try out your body language skills on a very compatible match, and double check your perceptions against Mr. Navarro's system.
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