Better Speech and Hearing Month · Pragmatics and Social Skills

The Things I Never Said: Nonverbal Communication

In the field of communication, it’s easy to suppose that my job is to get someone to use their words, or understand the words of another. This is actually a pretty large portion of my job, but truly there’s so much more. Have you ever thought about what you are communicating when you’re silent? When you’re leaning forward? When you’re drumming your fingers on the table as you’re listening? All of that is communication–and you haven’t spoken a single word. This is why “see what I’m saying?” works as an expression–so much of communication is seen but not heard. Here are some examples:

When all you have to do is give your friend a look.
And they know exactly what you want to say. How does that work? More likely than not, the expression is on your face and in your eyes. Your eyes widen in excitement, maybe you roll them in annoyance, but the other person has received your intended message.

When you cross your arms.
I’m guilty of this actually being my resting posture and am working to stop this one. Crossed arms communicate having some kind of barrier or wall up. You’re protecting yourself from the words your hearing or situation you’re in–you’re literally blocking your torso with your arms in defense-mode. The next time you find yourself in this position for no reason, try dropping them to your sides.

When you lean in.
You are actively engaged in what you’re experiencing. You’re actively listening and genuinely want to know more about what’s being shared with you. More often than not, your communicative partner feels that they’re really being heard, because they are.

When your feet are positioned away from the conversation.
You’ve already checked out. Studies have shown that your attention and focus rely on where your feet are planted. Imagine you’re standing and talking with a group of friends in a circle. If your feet are pointed inward, you’re likely invested and engaged in this conversation. If you have one foot facing outside the circle, you’re likely waiting for your turn to speak or looking for an exit. Think of the student in the classroom at her desk. The one ready to answer all of your questions has her whole body facing you. The one who is ready for recess likely has her feet facing the door.

When you move your eyebrows.
You read that correctly. Your eyebrows communicate more than you realize. When raised, they communicate excitement. When furrowed, they communicate a question or confusion. Eyebrow positioning can actually be crucial in using correct vocabulary in American sign language.

When you’re drumming your fingers.
This action can be a focusing tool, so I wanted to state that first. This action can also indicate boredom or annoyance. To my fidgeters, try this action on the underside of the table, in your desk, or on your knees.

It’s amazing how much we’re saying without speech. My challenge to you is to keep this in mind as you go into your week communicating with your various conversational partners. Let me know what you notice in comments.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

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