Non-verbal communication is a sub-set of any two-way communicating between people.
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Humans and primates are especially fond of delivering non-verbal forms of expression even though it often happens in humans without our even being conscious of it.
The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.
When you are communicating, your body is sending a message that is as powerful as your words.
In our following discussions, remember that our interpretations are just that – common interpretations. (For example, the person sitting with his or her legs crossed may simply be more comfortable that way, and not feeling closed-minded towards the discussion. Body language can also mean different things across different genders and cultures.) However, it is good to understand how various behaviors are often seen, so that we can make sure our body is sending the same message as our mouth.
Think about these scenarios for a moment. What non-verbal messages might you receive in each scenario? How might these non-verbal messages affect the verbal message?
- Your boss in Auckland asks you to come into his office to discuss a new project. He looks stern and his arms are crossed.
- A team member tells you they have bad news, but they are smiling as they say it.
- You tell a co-worker that you cannot help them with a project. They say that it’s OK, but they slam your office door on their way out.
This is the first goal of this module: to help you understand how to use body language to become a more effective communicator. Another goal, one which you will achieve with time and practice, is to be able to interpret body language, add it to the message you are receiving, and understand the message being sent appropriately.
With this in mind, let’s look at the components of non-verbal communication.
Understanding the Mehrabian Study
In 1971, psychologist Albert Mehrabian published a famous study called Silent Messages. In it, he made several conclusions about the way the spoken word is received. Although this study has been misquoted often throughout the years, its basic conclusion is that 7% of our message is verbal, 38% is paraverbal, and 55% is from body language.
Now, we know this is not true in all situations. If someone is speaking to you in a foreign language, you cannot understand 93% of what they are saying. Or, if you are reading a written letter, you are likely getting more than 7% of the sender’s message.
What this study does tell us is that body language is a vital part of our communication with others.
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