It is well-known that we communicate in different ways and that words, sometimes, are not even necessary. It is possible to say a lot without saying a single word – using movement, gestures, facial expressions, and even a look. This type of communication is called non-verbal, and we are witnessing a growing interest in studying it lately. Certainly, popular TV series like Lie to me also made a significant contribution.
But the fact is that we all communicate non-verbally and it is an integral part of our daily communication with others, in any situation we find ourselves in. Often, nonverbal communication reveals more information about our interlocutors or their hidden desires and intentions than verbal communication. This type of communication is characterized by expressiveness and different ways of expression such as posture, tone of voice, gestures, hand position, facial expressions, and even the clothes and accessories we wear. However, there are three basic elements of nonverbal communication: appearance, voice/sounds, and body language.
What makes nonverbal communication interesting is the claim of many theorists that, mostly, we can’t control what we communicate nonverbally. Yes, read it again! There are many claims that we send messages almost completely unconsciously with our appearance, behavior, body movements, facial expressions – does this sound incredible to you too?
As a confirmation of the importance of non-verbal communication, but also its dominance over the spoken word, Albert Mehrabian’s research is often cited, according to which 55% of communication refers to the appearance of the speaker, 38% to the voice, and only 7% to the content of speech. Although this formula 7% -38% -55% has become generally accepted in communication theory, it is important to say that this formula was created based on research conducted in controlled conditions (among other things, listening to the pronunciation of certain words, following facial expressions, and understanding the message) with a small number of participants, only 30 of them.
But even if we ignore the sample size and other research factors and assume that in some different research the percentages would be different, the fact is that the importance of nonverbal in overall communication is very big and should not be neglected.
Here is a good example – a very common and often situation that many find themselves in is a meeting with a new client. But, there is a great possibility that your hand movements and facial expressions will be different from those you will have during a presentation or conversation with your work colleagues, people with whom you spend a lot of time, and with whom you feel more relaxed.
It is perfectly fine to behave and communicate differently in different situations. But what is crucial is to consciously choose how we will act, and which message we will send, because that is the only way to feel comfortable and safe, and thus give the impression of an authentic and confident speaker.
Although body language is important in all aspects of everyday communication, it is especially important for the practice of public relations, as well as for media relations. Just as knowing nonverbal communication helps people understand the nuances of public speaking, it is very important how you send a message to your public, because body language is what the public “reads” as it forms its opinion on a topic or person speaking. That is why your preparation and execution are of key importance in this segment of public relations.
To have good preparation, it is important to know the so-called positive gestures such as smiling, confident handshake, and relaxed hands. We should not forget those elements of non-verbal communication that are perceived as negative (although it is very important to consider cultural differences) and which, as such, should be avoided as much as possible. These are primarily pointing fingers, crossed arms, shrugging, lack of eye contact, and so on.
Thus, nonverbal communication and its specific signals give a certain authenticity when conveying a message.
Additional confirmation of this statement is that “people may forget what you said, but they will always remember how they felt interacting with you.” That is why it is important to know the elements of non-verbal communication because only in this way it is possible to consciously convey the intended message to others in an effective way. The meaning and content of the message need to be aligned with body language because the mismatch of verbal and nonverbal communication leads to confusion and frustration in something that should be clear, direct, common, and easy to understand.
When non-verbal communication is not in line with the spoken words, then the interlocutor or the target public is not sure what is the meaning and tone of the message, and the speaker will not achieve his/her goal and mission – to be clear, precise, and consistent in his/her communication.
The importance of non-verbal communication for a comprehensive understanding of the message of our interlocutors is crucial for all of us. This was confirmed with the current pandemic during which we had the opportunity to participate in online meetings. In a situation when you are talking and the cameras of other participants are turned off, you do not have the opportunity to make eye contact, you do not receive feedback from the interlocutor, and you are not able to estimate whether you are speaking too fast, whether you are boring and so on. These circumstances are the best indication that although the word cannot be replaced by anything, interpersonal contact is the element that gives tone and color to communication.
As the renowned American psychotherapist Alexander Lowen said, “No language is as clear as body language, once we learn how to read it.”
It is worth trying ?