Communication occurs in many ways and across endless mediums. With technology allowing for rapid-fire negotiations across oceans in an email, or silently in the same classroom via text messages, virtual and social media platforms, make written communication more convenient than ever.
I don’t mean to sound like my grandfather reminiscing about his 12-mile trek to school uphill both ways in the snow, (barefoot) but the breeding of good interpersonal communication is becoming a lost art across teens, Millennials, and even seasoned high-ranking business professionals.
Verbal skills play a big factor in this exchange, but they are not the most important.
In reality, communication begins before you utter your first word in an interview, before introducing yourself on a first date, and even before your opening line in a presentation.
Non-verbal communication, or gestures and facial expressions, serve as the first impression you give to another individual or group and comprise 94% or more of our interpersonal communications.
In this article, we will highlight some of the do’s and don’ts of non-verbal communication and at the end, we will unlock the key secret to effective communication.
Good non-verbal communication:
The development of S.O.L.E.R. as an active listening model, or a way to physically demonstrate your interest and engagement in what a person is saying, was created by author and professional management consultant, Gerard Egan.
His model is used today in clinical counseling and professional settings worldwide, and can be incredibly useful in any situation as a baseline for better listening. Egan’s theory depicts the most effective body language to employ to make others feel cared for.
S.O.L.E.R is an acronym that stands for:
S (Square): Face squarely; by doing this it shows you are involved.
O (Open): Keep an open posture: Keeping an open posture means not crossing arms and legs. Open postures make people feel engaged and welcome.
L (Lean): by leaning forward when a person is talking to you, it shows that you are involved and listening to what they have to say.
E (Eye Contact): Use good eye contact. Having good eye contact shows that you are listening and not distracted.
R (Relax): It is important to stay calm and avoid fidgeting when a person is talking to you to show you are focused.
Non-verbal communication to avoid (From Chapter 4 in Ingredients of Young Outliers):
- Talking with your arms folded across your chest or with your fists clenched at your side. (It conveys aggressiveness.)
- Rolling your eyes when someone is speaking to you. (My children will tell you this is a sure way for me to say: “The last thing I want to do is hurt you, but it’s still on the list.”)
- Talking over your shoulder while walking away or out of a room. (It conveys disrespect.)
- Crossing your legs and folding your arms while sitting. (It conveys that you’re hiding something, or that you’re cold.)
- Snapping gum or chewing with your mouth open. (It conveys that you were raised in a barn.)
- Shifting eyes or shifting back and forth while standing. (It conveys that you’re being deceitful or have to hit the bathroom!)
- Working, reading, texting, writing, watching TV while someone is trying to have a conversation. I’m guilty of this one and am still working on always being “present” in the moment. (It conveys disrespect.)
- Not making eye contact while speaking directly to others, or shaking their hand while not looking at them. (It conveys lack of confidence.)
- Blowing your nose or wiping your mouth and then shaking someone’s hand. (I’m not sure what it conveys but it’s disgusting.)
This is not to overgeneralize non-verbal communication. Culturally, non-verbal communication practices differ.
In the traditional Native American culture, engaging in direct eye contact with a stranger can be interpreted as disrespectful, whereas not engaging in eye contact might make you seem uninterested in a social or professional interaction on Wall Street.
If you have an idea about a culture discrepancy like this, be sure to do your research.
And as promised, I will now share with you the secret behind effective communication, the key that will unlock the door to improving your personal and professional interactions for the rest of your life.
Drumroll please………… the most important aspect of a successful communicator is the ability to step back and listen.
When two people are unable to listen to each other often, what is taking place isn’t communication, but rather dueling monologs. Even the casual bystander can plainly see that the one whose lips aren’t moving isn’t listening at all, but simply waiting for the speaker to take a breath before unloading their word ammunition.