From problem-solving at work to relating to spouses and children, clear communication is important in so many areas of our lives. However, when we’re trying to develop our communication chops, we tend to neglect to focus on nonverbal communication skills.
This is a huge mistake, as what we do with our bodies, and the faces we make when interacting with others, are just as important—if not more—than the words we say.
Here are five simple ways to improve the way you communicate nonverbally.
1. Work on your eye contact
If you don’t make eye contact, it can seem as though you’re uninterested, or worse, trying to hide something. On the other hand, forcing an unnatural amount of eye contact can seem intimidating, confrontational, or creepy to some. Eye contact should therefore not mimic the staring contests you had as a child.
Experts recommend making periods of eye contact last for several seconds, with breaks of the same length in between.
2. Keep your body relaxed, open, and fairly still
This means a number of things. Avoid crossing your arms in front of you, as this can appear defensive or disinterested. Fidgety movements like tapping your foot or wringing your hands can give off signals of nervousness, impatience, or a lack of confidence. Slouching, also, can make you seem disinterested, tired, or unengaged.
The best posture to take is one that is attentive, yet relaxed. This means different things for different bodies, but a typical way to convey this is to keep your neck and head held high, your shoulders relaxed, and your arms and hands by your side or resting in your lap.
3. Watch your tone of voice
Oftentimes, your tone of voice conveys more than the actual words you use. Consider sarcasm, where we say the opposite of what we mean, but our tone gives away our true meaning. Our tone can show enthusiasm, interest, and openness, or disinterest, frustration and anger.
This one can be more difficult to monitor than body language, so start playing with your tone, and see how people respond to you, or record yourself to see how you might sound to others.
4. Face your partner
You wouldn’t give a speech with your back or side to an audience, and we really shouldn’t do this in our day-to-day conversations either. Communicating face to face, with your body facing your conversation partner’s, shows the other person that you are interested and engaged, and also gives you more opportunities to read their nonverbal signals, such as facial expressions and body language.
It’s almost a cliché now, but that’s because it’s always true. If you want to seem more approachable and open to communication, smiling—genuinely—is the key. This is especially important if your conversation is becoming contentious or controversial.
Your smile will allow the person you’re talking to relax and stay open to the discussion at hand, rather than devolve into using defensive or combative language.
Some people seem to naturally communicate effectively non-verbally. While we think that these people are naturally more ‘intuitive,’ or interpersonally skilled, than ourselves, the truth is that this way of communicating is a skill that can be developed over time. The only way to do it is to practice!
-The Alternative Daily