Kevin Ian Schmidt

Effective Communication Skills: NONVERBAL

Another aspect of effective communication is a basic understanding of body language. Studies have shown that more than 50 percent of a spoken message’s meaning can be determined by nonverbal gestures. It is claimed that only 15 percent of what is said is verbal and at least 85 percent of interpersonal communications are nonverbal.

For this reason, it is important for the speaker and the listener to be aware of three important characteristics and principles of nonverbal communications.

First, most nonverbal communication is automatic and unconscious. This means that it is essentially more difficult for the speaker and the listener to control their nonverbal responses than their verbal ones. It is because of this factor that most people will place more emphasis on the meaning of nonverbal clues as opposed to the actual spoken message. It is equally important for the speaker to be aware of their own body language in order to make certain they are conveying the message without contradiction to the verbal message.

Second, if there is an attempt by one person to deceive another with words, there will likely be a conflict betrayed by leakage of nonverbal cues. This means that a false statement provided by the speaker will likely be accompanied by a nonverbal cue, or nonverbal leakage, which actually represents the truth. One should also be aware of a conscious effort on behalf of the speaker to suppress nonverbal responses. For example, if one attempts to control their facial expression while providing a false statement, one might unconsciously display the truth through nonverbal expressions of the hands or feet.

The third characteristic to consider is that different types of nonverbal cues are usually interconnected and congruent in manifesting the same attitude or emotion. This is how two different people listening to the same story can come to the same conclusion despite paying attention to different types of communication cues. One might be more aware of the tone of voice of the speaker, while the other pays more attention to the visual cues, yet both interpret the same meaning of the message.

The following are some examples of nonverbal cues to be aware of for improving ones effective communication skills:

  • Eye Behavior

This includes eye contact, tears, and pupil dilation. Eye contact can signify a willingness to listen and truth (direct) or avoidance and deception (no contact or very little contact.) Tears can indicate a wide variety of emotions, but most importantly, they tend to indicate the strength of the feeling. The dilation of pupils can be a good indicator of alarm, excitement, interest, and satisfaction. Conversely, the contraction of pupils can represent lack of interest, boredom, or tranquility.

  • Facial Expression and Head Movements

The human face is capable of expressing more than one emotion at a time. However, the mouth of the speaker is more restricted than the eyes. There are different degrees of smiles, different degrees of spontaneity of smiles, and different degrees of congruity with the expression of other parts of the face, particularly the eyes. Because of this, it is very difficult to interpret the movements of the mouth and their meanings. One should seek additional training opportunities to become proficient in this area. Head movements such as up and down, which normally indicates agreement, or back and forth, which normally indicates disagreement are common. These movements can be very subtle during conversation, but can be very helpful in determining attitudes.

  • Shoulders

Shoulders can be a good indicator of stress. As tension begins to rise, so will one’s shoulders. Conversely, as one becomes more relaxed, so will the shoulders

  • Arms and Hands

Arms folded across the chest, animated talking with arms and hands, trembling or fidgety hands, fidgeting with an object while speaking, playing with hair, clenched fists, and pounding the table are just a few of the many indicators with arms and hands. Most of these will be self-explanatory to the observer and will likely provide the bulk of the nonverbal cues within a conversation.

Check Out: 5 Nonverbal Indicators in Interviews

These are just a few examples of nonverbal cues for the security professional to be aware of when conducting an interview or simply carrying on a conversation within the normal scope of duties. It is very important to keep in mind the different personalities and different cultural beliefs one might encounter when interpreting nonverbal cues. Do not jump to conclusions and be certain to take in the whole picture before making an evaluation.


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