Ever hear the phrase; you can’t NOT communicate? I think it’s true, because even when you aren’t speaking, your body language is.
Effective communicators pay attention to what their body language is saying. Why? If there is dissimilarity between what you are saying and how you are saying it, your message may be misunderstood.
Let’s say you have agreed to take on a stretch assignment at work, and you want to assure your boss that you are good to go. But your arms are folded over your chest, your head is tipped down slightly, and your words are soft and flat as you say, “I can handle it.” Does your body language agree with your words? Not in this case, and when there is dissonance listeners tend to believe the nonverbal. So your boss may hear, “I’m not sure I can handle it.”
Let’s take another example; a member of your team has just asked for some of your time to discuss an issue. You are pressed for time, but agree to have the conversation anyway. As you listen, you inadvertently keep glancing at your watch. What are you signaling about your time and attention?
In order to minimize the risk of sending nonverbal messages that negate or discount your words, begin to practice these habits:
1. Become aware of your body language. Is your head tipped down? Are your arms folded over your chest? Are you fidgeting? Are you looking away from the person? Does your face suggest stress? Just begin to notice. (If you find this difficult, you might be able to increase your own awareness by noticing the body language of people around you. Are they bored? Angry? On top of the world? How can you tell?)
2. Build neutral habits. If you habitually spin your pen around in your hand or tap the table, train yourself to be more still. If you bounce on your feet when speaking, or cross your ankles, train yourself to stand still in a balanced position. If you tend to show anxiety or stress on your face (raised eyebrows, tight mouth) train yourself to relax your face. Breathe to still your energy.
3. Look for alignment between what you say and how you say it. If you are expressing thanks or positive thoughts, try for a smile in your eyes and a sparkle in your voice. If you are expressing a serious topic, look for firm, assertive body language. If your message is neutral, so should your body language be.
4. Get some feedback. Ask a colleague or trusted advisor to observe you in a number of situations. How well-matched are your verbals and non-verbals? If they notice any habits or concerns, try video recording some of your conversations to pick up on these discrepancies. If you notice a lot of misunderstandings and think you might have a problem, ask a skilled coach for guidance.
When your body language and message are synchronized, you will experience fewer misunderstandings, and your messages will come across with more power and more impact.