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I Bet You Think You Communicate with Words

“Eyebrows up!” I bet you think that the person listening to you is hearing your words, but the reality is that when you raise your eyebrows, they’re interpreting your expression, the raised eyebrows, through their lens and receiving a message primarily being delivered by your face. No words needed. 

Try it. Raise your eyebrows and pay attention to what your face is now saying to anyone speaking with you. Elevating your eyebrows is sending a more powerful message than your words could. 

In a recent presentation, Linda Clemons, Sisterpreneur, Inc. founder and expert in non-verbal communication stated that, according to communication theory, our words are only responsible for 7% of what is heard in our conversations with others. 

Remarkably,  93% of the message you convey to another person is communicated through your physical body, movements, and tonality and then filtered through the recipient’s attitudes, culture, and knowledge.

It’s a miracle that we ever effectively deliver the information we want to exchange in the way it’s meant to be received. 

 “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

This widely used quotation illustrates the fact that words are often secondary to other means of communication and can and will be overshadowed by your actions and body language. (As an aside, research indicates that the actual quote was slightly different, but we’ll leave that alone for now.) 

Most likely, you’ve figured out early on that communication is the key to most aspects of your life. Your relationships, all of them, depend on it. Even your relationship with money thrives when you speak about it with others. Consider the progress you make when you speak to a financial expert, a partner, or even your employer about your finances. 

But are you communicating well? Enhance communication skills so you can use them to accomplish your goals. Every success in life is tied to how you communicate, from selling your services to landing the next job or promotion, to educating your audience to getting your kids to put on their shoes. 

If you aren’t considering the importance of practicing your nonverbal communication skills, all the good grammar you’ve mastered won’t be enough.

 “Understanding how nonverbal messages are sent and received and the types of nonverbal communication can make you a more effective face-to-face communicator. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of nonverbal communication.” (Masterclass)

Communication is yet another area to work on and develop a holistic awareness of your skillset. During her talk, Linda also broke up language into three parts, stating that 7% of our communication is through our words, 38% is via tone, and 55% is conveyed by body language.

If you’ve been around children this is something you already know, because they often tell you that they’re comparing your words to how you look and sound as you say them. My daughter has often told me after I’ve said “that’s great honey” that my tone was off or that my face was not at all confirming that I thought something was actually great. 

Declaring greatness should be accompanied by a smile, eye contact, a touch, and an exuberant tone, anything else will likely create skepticism in the person to whom the compliment is directed. 

Our nonverbal communication seems to have degraded with cell phones now commanding so much attention. Many people ignore the signals sent when speaking with someone while looking at their devices. We are potentially hearing less than ever.

Standing out as an effective, charismatic nonverbal communicator will help you to create the work and life you truly want. Here are a few new tips that I learned recently:

  1. Pay attention to nonverbal cues that others are giving you and the ways you use them as well. What happens when you squint your eyes, avert your eyes or raise your eyebrows?

    Pay attention to nonverbal messages in clusters, meaning more than one movement. If someone shakes your hand, smiles, and stands up straight, multiple physical movements and messages are speaking to you. There’s more being said than just a handshake would convey.
  2. Notice congruency. If words, tonality, and nonverbal actions do not align, there could be a disconnect in the message between you and another person. If after a job interview, the interviewer says “we’ll call you and let you know,” but they are shuffling papers on the desk, looking down and are slumped over, that communication may be incongruent with the intentionality of the spoken words. 
  3. Context is important. I once had a procedure done on my eyes immediately prior to a meeting with a new attorney. His office was all windows, the sun was streaming in, and I couldn’t even look up due to the brightness. My eyes were tearing through the entire meeting. My body language was telling a story of despair that was completely out of context.

    I’ll never forget trying to have a normal meeting with this man while I appeared to be crying and looking down while professional words were coming out of my mouth. Needless to say, that was our last meeting.
  4. Different cultures use body language in different ways and it’s critical to understand how people communicate nonverbally in different cultures to be an effective communicator in other regions and countries of the world. If you know and use other languages, remember that there is a nonverbal language you must learn as well. 
  5. The power of touch can convey messages in numerous ways as well and paying attention to what you do naturally, what is acceptable (which is rapidly changing), and what you mean to convey with touch is important. 
  6. When you elevate, you show excitement. Everything from raising your eyebrows to sitting or standing with good posture will send a message of enthusiasm and interest. Who doesn’t want to communicate with someone truly interested in them? Have you ever told a story to someone who says they’re interested but is barely looking at you? That’s a nonverbal message that will kill a potentially interesting and warm conversation. 

Volumes of research and information exists on this topic. Find key pieces that you may notice you could improve on and work on a few at a time. Start to observe others to see where certain physical movements, expressions, tone of voice gets you to agree, buy or want to spend more time with that person. Get curious about this language that we can all benefit from learning and see how it impacts your work and life.