Do you receive all of the communication that is being sent your way?
I’ve begun to feel like a traffic cop in my work as I ask – and then tell people – to slow down at work. The pace of work, whether real or imagined, creates an internal pressure to move fast, talk fast and listen fast. There is a limit as to how fast is too fast to be effective, and most of us have passed it.
People are urged to multi-task. When I see clients doing many things quickly, I find that few people do any one thing incredibly well. Effective communication ends up being assumed and taken for granted. I’ve observed smart and talented people becoming nonverbally dense. They don’t pick up on all the communication coming their way that is a bit covert; sent as clues to reveal a not-all-that-hidden message.
I don’t play cards. If I did, I would have a tough time dividing my attention between what’s in my hand, the strategy I use to win, keeping myself from displaying non-verbal cues about what I’m thinking, and paying attention to the potential non-verbal clues I could pick up from my fellow card players.
Almost every aspect of who we are is shown by how we look: facial expressions, body language, posture, movements, and gestures. While the percentages often vary, I know that the impact of verbal communication accounts for about 7% of the overall message. Up to 55% of the message is in our appearance and body language, while the remaining 38% is the tone, pace, and inflection of our voice. (A. Mehrabian) It should also be noted that different cultures attribute different meanings to body language. Even a smile can mean a variety of things: happiness, nervousness, superiority, avoidance, or fear.
We communicate with much more than words when we interact with someone. Our body has a language of its own. The way we sit, the gestures we make, the way we talk, how much eye contact we make, even how we move our eyebrows – all are non-verbal ways of communicating messages that may or may not match the one that our words are sending.
If you play cards, especially poker, you may be familiar with ‘tells – the non-verbal communication that can reveal what a person is thinking. An exhale or a smile may indicate a good hand. A raised eyebrow or biting the bottom lip could reveal a challenge encountered. These clues, however, often unconscious, are only useful and revealing if they are noticed. There are also times, once people become aware that others are noticing their non-verbal communications, which they will then work to mask them. Worry might be masked by an offer to refill your drink.
Perceptive communicators go beyond what is said to understand what is not being said but are still being communicated.
Aspects of clues in communication can include:
- Tone of voice
- Rate and volume of speech
- How words are articulated
- The stress placed on certain words
- Facial expression
- Eye contact
- Body language
- Posture and body movement
Making the wrong assumption and operating as if only the words are what you need to pay attention to can be problematic. This is, even more, the case when communicating with people who are dishonest, afraid, or manipulative.
How can you get better at paying attention to what’s not being said?
Sender – Sometimes the sender doesn’t have the right words. They may not have the emotional self-awareness to articulate their true feelings. Sometimes, they are simply afraid, to be honest about their feelings.
Receiver – Sometimes receivers talk too much, don’t listen well, don’t ask questions about what they have heard to get clarification, or are distracted by what they have to do next.
Here are some things you can do right now to improve:
- One person talks at a time.
- When someone talks, the other person/people listen.
- Reduce/eliminate distractions (screens, music, reading, typing, scrolling)
- Be curious and ask questions.
- Listen for an underlying emotion and identify it.
- Look (whenever possible) at all the clues – facial expression, the tone of voice, body language, eye contact.
- Listen to your gut. If you get a visceral sense that something is off, pay attention to that message.
- Ask yourself if there is something not being said.
- Be aware the social media posts have almost no ability to receive non-verbal clues.
Above all else – slow down the communication process and pay attention to all the communication coming your way. Rather than assume that you are an excellent communicator, assume there is something you might be missing.
Think about how you play cards. Don’t just focus on those cards in your hand. Pay attention to the behavior of the people sitting at the table with you. Many of them are missing the clues. Don’t let that be you.