Good communication is the foundation of successful relationships, both personally and professionally. But we communicate with much more than words. In fact, research shows that the majority of our communication is nonverbal. Nonverbal communication, or body language, includes our facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture, and even the tone of our voice.
The ability to understand and use nonverbal communication is powerful tools that will help you connect with others, express what you really mean, navigate challenging situations, and build better relationships at home and work. Nonverbal communication, or body language, is a vital form of communication. When we interact with others, we continuously give and receive countless wordless signals. All of our nonverbal behaviors—the gestures we make, the way we sit, how fast or how loud we talk, how close we stand, how much eye contact we make—send strong messages.
The way you listen, look, move, and react tell the other person whether or not you care and how well you’re listening. The nonverbal signals you send either produce a sense of interest, trust, and desire for connection—or they generate disinterest, distrust, and confusion. For example, the human face is extremely expressive, able to express countless emotions without saying a word. And unlike some forms of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are universal.
The facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust are the same across cultures. Remember that the way you move and carry you, communicates a wealth of information to the world. This type of nonverbal communication includes your posture, bearing, stance, and subtle movements. Gestures are woven into the fabric of our daily lives.
We wave, point, beckon, and use our hands when we’re arguing or speaking animatedly—expressing ourselves with gestures often without thinking. However, the meaning of gestures can be very different across cultures and regions, so it’s important to be careful to avoid misinterpretation. Since the visual sense is dominant for most people, eye contact is an especially important type of nonverbal communication.
The way you look at someone can communicate many things, including interest, affection, hostility, or attraction. We communicate a great deal through touch. Think about the messages given by the following: a firm handshake, a timid tap on the shoulder, a warm bear hug, a reassuring pat on the back, a patronizing pat on the head, or a controlling grip on your arm. We communicate with our voices, even when we are not using words.
Nonverbal speech sounds such as tone, pitch, volume, inflection, rhythm, and rate are important communication elements. When we speak, other people “read” our voices in addition to listening to our words.
These nonverbal speech sounds provide subtle but powerful clues into our true feelings and what we really mean. Think about how tone of voice, for example, can indicate sarcasm, anger, affection.
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