In today’s post I’ll show you how nonverbal communications affect you and your life, but are really are often misinterpretations.
The definition of nonverbal behavior is:
Nonverbal communication (NVC) is the transmission of messages or signals through a nonverbal platform such as eye contact, facial expression, gestures, posture, and body language.Wikipedia
I’m going to take it another step further and discuss online communication too.
Let’s take a look at the different types of nonverbal communications that you may see on a daily basis.
Whether it’s a Facial Expression or a Dismissive Gesture… What Does it all Mean?
I tripped upon this awesome clip below on Dr. Caroline Leaf’s Instagram. She’s an amazing communications expert who writes books and studies the complexities of the brain.
This quote she posted really hit home for me because of it’s truth. It really calls us all out doesn’t it?
Different Kinds of NonVerbal Communication
There are several types of nonverbal ways to communicate. Let’s take a look at nine of them.
If someone makes a face (this could be a smile, a raised brow, a grimace, nose wrinkle…), whatever it may be, we interpret what they are communicating.
A smile to some may mean friendship while to others it’s simply a way of being polite. It could also be a ploy to suck you in. Narcissists are the best and manipulating facial expressions to draw you in.
Facial expressions are there for all to see. Can they be manipulated? You bet!
Have you ever been in a situation where you’re chatting with someone and they tilt their head or yawn. Oh my, each has it’s own connotations, but is there a message there or not?
I once asked someone why they yawned all the time when we chatted. I thought he was bored and uninterested. It turned out it was a side-affect of medication. Who knew?!
They’re so fast that you’re not even sure if it was real.
It could be a flash in the eyes, the twitch of a finger, a quick blink of the eyes… These are those things that people have no control over, but communicate to the other person.
Do you pay enough attention that you’d see, and recognize, micro-expressions flash across someone’s face or body? Does it happen to you? Are you aware when it does?
Oh my, how we like to think we can understand everything from someone’s eyes.
The idea that the eyes are the windows to the soul is widely held, but in reality they tell us only what we want to believe, fear, or project on the other.
Eyes and the space around them are expressive, but you can’t get the whole story without some explanation.
Tears for example aren’t always what they appear. Neither is a wink, a smize (that’s a Tyra Banks term for smile with the eyes), or lowered lids… It’s you who puts that story together.
Tone of Voice:
It’s amazing how we can judge a situation or message through intonation. Here it’s like the message behind the message. In other words, don’t listen to what I’m saying, but how I’m saying it.
Do you detect a little sexy in there? Are you now thinking he’s interested? or perhaps you detected the bitchiness in a friends voice though the words are communicating something else.
What do you hear that isn’t there?
Some gestures are pretty easy to read. Hold two fingers up, it usually means two of whatever the person is ordering. And things like flipping the bird, well you can usually get a pretty good idea what that individual is trying to convey.
A lot of gestures are open to interruption. You may think that you get it, but it’s really the context and environment in which a gesture used, which is more important.
An example here is taking culture into account when considering the gesture. Some cultures are taught that it is rude to look people in the eye, while for others it’s a sign of respect.
We’re all so different, with varying beliefs, values, and teachings, that to think you fully know what another person is saying is difficult. Be careful not to jump to conclusions when it comes to gestures though some are fairly obvious. That’s fine, but don’t assume all people use the same gestures for the same reason.
This is something that we observe and define without even knowing it.
Think of things like slumped shoulders, head hung low, soft belly… What do all these things say to you? Are you correct in your thinking? Are you su
Other postures to consider could be: hunched over, square shoulders, chin in the air, a wide stance, fetal position… can you think of other postures that convey a message?
Are they always correct?
This is the big picture. The idea of the jiggling knee, the swinging arms, the dragging feet, crossed arms, quivering lip… the list goes on and on.
The thing with body language is that often the person doesn’t realize how they hold themselves and therefore unaware of the message they send. Or, conversely, they know exactly what their body language is and want you to hear it load and clear.
Do you find that you’re aware of your posture, nervousness, or staring?
While body language is something that has been, and continues to be, studied by scientists, it’s fascinating stuff.
When you’re sad and someone rubs your hand, a nonverbal communication is sent. The message is one of support and caring.
Being able to understand touch helps you steer your way through the world and keep you safe.
Just like you learned as a kid, there’s good touch and bad touch.
That guy who kept leaning into you on the crowded bus may send off those bells and whistles of fight or flight. Are you right? In such circumstances you have to listen to your gut. It’s the same when violence is predicted.
Other touches may spark imagination or fantasy. This is the kind of thing where the girl you’ve been crushing on, touches your arm, and in your head you see it as a marriage proposal.
Touch is such a personal and tactile form of nonverbal communication that I believe you really need to listen.
Have you ever had anyone come and stand ultra close to you–like totally, in your space–but they don’t really seem to ‘get’ it?
It may make you uncomfortable and leave you thinking the person is a yucky dude, but this again is so dependent on several factors.
I know some Americans who lived in India for several years. When they first arrived they learned quickly that an empty space is one that is meant to be filled. The culture is different, but also the environment and the understanding of personal space.
If someone is invading your personal space, is it intentional? Are they smelling your hair? Ewww… What do you think they’re actually communicating to you?
Personal or Professional Online Communications:
How many times have you received an email and thought: Oh my God, What did I do? You start searching your memory for reasons behind the supposed snarky email and your brain goes on a wild goose chase.
This type of response is so dependent on your personal relationship with the person sending the email. There’s no verbal cues, no body language, and tone. You insert those yourself.
This is a common problem and one you really need to be aware of or end up going down a windy path of self-doubt and worry.
Things like texts, emails, and letters all carry with them nonverbal communication. Try not to overthink it.
What’s it All Mean?
Here’s the reality check.
When you experience some sort of nonverbal communication, you do really feel it–and that, is real.
The reaction can be physical like a punch in the gut, or a tingling sensation–totally and completely real and valid–but are they real?
Does that make sense? I know the reaction is real, but is it a reaction to anything other than your own personal response mechanisms?
Remember too, the reaction can also be in the head.
A thought or a putting together that A + B must = C, because it always did before. Ah…but does it this time? That’s the question.
Huh? What do you mean? I hear you ask incredulously. Of course I understand what they’re saying. I know how to read between the lines. I felt what he meant…
Our Personal Bias
Have you ever read a book and then gone and seen the movie? The book is usually better, isn’t it? Wanna know why?
Yes, it’s true that filmmakers often change things up for cinematic reasons, but what it really comes down to, is the fact you liked your interpretation of the book/story/setting/characters/plot etc.
You had a picture of the main character in your mind, could hear their voice in your head, and “felt” the emotions and unspoken words of the author. (That, btw, is a very talented author…) That is powerful stuff.
Into each and every situation, you put your own experiences, personal beliefs, and prejudgments. You’re not alone in this.
So, Should We Ignore What is Not Said?
I think this is a two-sided answer… heck, maybe even three or four.
The thing is, you’re normal to observe body language and heed it’s cues. Sometimes, they’re pretty obvious. I mean hey, if the someone has their fist raised, chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to predict the next more.
Where it gets complicated is in the subtler nonverbal communications that might offer a clue or may steer you down a wrong path.
Awareness is a good start.
You may not even realize if you’re throwing off a certain vibe with your own body language and you won’t be able to tell with others either.
Knowing of the existence and the possibility of invalid communications that make up the nonverbal transmissions, allows you to question the validity of your own thoughts and biases.
Don’t be afraid to ask yourself what you really know, and realize it’s not all about you. Each person is different and their thought process is different from yours–every single time. If you want to know something, you’ll have to use your words.
What do You Think? Did I Miss Anything?
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment right now.
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