Exercising Non-Verbal Communication Skills in a World of Technology

March 27, 2013



Today’s technology has no doubt made a heavy impact on social interactions. Rather than call, we text or send a Facebook message. Instead of walk across the office, we use online chat or email. While all of these are examples of verbal communication, only the voice-to-voice and face-to-face examples include forms of non-verbal devices that help all parties involved better understand the full message being delivered. This can sometimes seem like a good thing – for example, no nervousness is shown through a text, but a call may reveal a raspy voice and lots of “ummms”. However, much needed tone is often lost when the average composer lacks the vernacular variety to imply it. (So goes the saying, “I wish there were a sarcasm font.) There also exists the problem of spending so little time in traditional communication settings that we start to lose our fluency in these ever important nonverbal cues, and more often misunderstand or offend others in offline social situations. Let’s look at a few ways these non-verbal faux pas can happen, and how they can be avoided.

Understand Basic Kinesics
Your mother was right when she told you not to slouch. Not only is it bad for your spine, but it sends a message of your boredom and general disinterest. Sitting up straight is just one example of polite kinesics. You should understand how all of your body positioning is interpreted by others. Turn towards those who speak to you, don’t fold your arms, and be sure nod your head to confirm your understanding.

Be Conscious of Eye Movement
We all know that person that rolls their eyes, seemingly without realizing they did – don’t be that person. Make eye contact with your conversation partner(s), and be aware of your facial expressions.

Use Appropriate Tone, Pitch, and Volume When Speaking
If you’re not accustomed to using your voice around others, you may communicate the wrong message with the way that you speak. Being too loud can be annoying and being too quiet will cause your input to be passed over. It’s equally important to not be too dry or low-pitched when speaking. Although unintentional, you will likely come off as being rude, sarcastic, a know-it-all, or disinterested. They only way to hone these skills is to use them with around others.

Understand the Area of Others’ Personal Space
Have you ever met a “close talker”? The behavior of standing within 18 inches of someone with whom you are having a casual, and not intimate conversation is very unnerving to most people. A good guide for conversational distance between yourself and an acquaintance, extended family member, or colleague is about the length of your arm. Business meetings, conferences, and other professional settings require at least 4 feet of distance, if not more.

Are You a “Toucher”?
Although different cultures have slightly different rules, it’s important to know the most commonly accepted levels of appropriate touch for different relationships in your particular social situation. Most Americans value a handshake or shoulder pat from a colleague or business partner. Hugging, shoulder rubbing, and hair touching are only appropriate within friendships and family, as they are more intimate. If you don’t know the difference between what one may consider a friendly shoulder squeeze and an intimate shoulder touch, you should avoid it altogether.

Value Others’ Time
Because the world of text, chat, and email has given us the freedom to respond at leisure, we tend to forget that face-to-face interactions require more consideration for timeliness. Most people understand that you should arrive on time to interviews, meetings, and lunch dates – but they don’t understand why or see it as important. Being on time demonstrates respect, thoughtfulness, and interest.

If you feel you don’t understand all of the nuances of non-verbal communication, you’re not alone. There is a rising concern over the decline in “real” social interaction. You can avoid this by committing to face time (no, not the Apple App) with friends, family, or a social club at least once a week. It seems as though staying sharp in your non-verbal communication skills may actually give you a competitive edge as time goes on and the online generation becomes the majority.

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