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Understanding the impact of non-verbal communications

Understanding the impact of non-verbal communications

You cannot not communicate – the way we move and use our physiology sends lots of messages and we need to recognize this fact.

The non-verbal signs or body language that we give when communi­cating has a powerful impact on any communications process. In order to understand the non-verbal messages we send we need to consider the following signals:

Eye contact

Typically, when people are talking they do not look at the listener all the time. Rather, they will focus around the individual to gauge reaction, then give a longer look to signal that they expect some verbal response. Eye contact by the listener suggests real interest. A steady gaze is often associated with trust and confidence. However, in some situations a sustained gaze could be interpreted as a stare and possibly even aggres­sive, if other non-verbal behaviours do not give a more sympathetic impression.

Physical proximity

The notion of physical proximity of course varies in different cultures. So for some people ‘keeping your distance’ may appear naturally polite, for others, a sign of remoteness and even hostility. The safest guideline is to try to establish a comfortable distance, but bear in mind that if you keep backing away to preserve your ‘personal space’, your actions may be misinterpreted.

Body posture

The body posture that we adopt can convey a lot of information about how we feel or think about a situation. Crossed arms, for instance, are often viewed as a sign of defensiveness – at the same time they can simply mean that we are comfortable. Conversely, open arms are likely to suggest interest and concern. Leaning forward can demonstrate interest, although when overdone it may be seen as threatening. Leaning back can show either disinterest, or a relaxed posture depending on other cues such as the level of questions being asked. Leaning forward too much can suggest aggression, whereas leaning forward gently indicates interest in what is being said and can do much to build