The Body Talks

One of God’s greatest creations is our senses. In His brilliance, He gave us the gift of sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell. These senses have proven to be essential as they help us paint the full picture of our experiences. They also help us to communicate with people based on our perspectives. It is difficult to negate the power of communication, but we do tend to forget the weight of non-verbal communication. All too often, the focus is placed on what we say. However, with non-verbal communication, you are paying attention to the communicator’s body. Their eye contact, posture, and gestures are adding color to the story that you may be completely ignoring. 

If you struggle with communication skills, you may be lacking sensitivity. Sensitivity is often defined by emotions and feelings, but it is also your ability to detect changes or movement. Sometimes we get so caught up in a conversation or even an argument that we forget to watch what is happening right in front of us. Let’s say you are having a debate with an old friend, and you are clearly winning based on your delivery of solid points. You may be so consumed by “winning” that you have missed the small hints of anger that your friend has displayed. Maybe they are now standing up versus sitting down like they were at the beginning of the conversation. Or the fact that they have been avoiding eye contact with you for the last five minutes and looking off into the distance as they speak. Next thing you know, your friend’s voice has elevated, and they are storming off. Unfortunately, you did not notice any of the signs until they finally walked out of the room. Sensitivity to your environment and those in it will keep you conscious of changes in someone’s demeanor during the discourse. The sooner you pick up on their body language, the better you can be at diffusing the tension.  

Another thing to note about non-verbal communication is that it can differ depending on the person. When you become a skilled communicator, you become fluent in body language and understand that there is room to study specific individuals and learn their nuances. There are basic body languages that we are taught (or naturally express): smile to show you are happy, slouch to show that you are sad, cross your arms to make it clear that you are unapproachable, and so on. As you familiarize yourself with your partner, friends, coworkers, or family, you will note how they specifically show emotion. By noting these expressions, you will respond better to them in real-time. You may have a partner who starts tapping their foot before they explode with anger. Note that. You may have a sister who paces when she is nervous. Note that. Your best friend whistles when she has exciting news. Yep, note that too. The more data you collect, the better you become at anticipating the other person’s needs. You will know when to ask what is wrong or when to walk away before things get out of hand.  

So, how can we better improve our understanding and response to non-verbal cues?  

  1. Be Still.
    • To avoid missing pertinent details, we must give our brains time to process what we are seeing. In my example where there was a debate amongst two friends, you can see how easy it is to ignore the signs when you are so caught up in your own points. Being still does not equate to letting people walk all over you, but rather being slow to speak and quick to listen. We do not only listen with our ears, but with our eyes. Their body is speaking, so be still, and watch.  

  2. Note any trends.
    • When I was a kid, seeing my mom call the big, black screen on the table a tv enough times made me associate that image with the word “tv.” If you see someone do something enough times, and it results in the same behavior, you have likely identified a trend. Why do analysts study trends in data? So that they can make informed decisions on the company’s next move. It is only right that we do the same when it comes to people. Ignoring these trends can lead to frustration from both parties, and this can be avoided once at least one person decides to pay attention.  

  3. Be thoughtful.
    • Sadly, this is becoming a lost art in our global community. Thoughtfulness involves being considerate of another person. Once you have been still enough to note the trends of the people you encounter, your thoughtfulness will determine whether they truly feel heard or not. It will guide your response to what you are seeing and can be the defining moment on whether the conversation goes in the right direction. Thoughtfulness looks different to everyone, but the key thing is to show love by humbly anticipating another person’s needs. I use the word humbly because we all make wrong assumptions sometimes, and it helps to be open to correction even if your intentions were the best. 

If you are struggling with communication, please realize that you are not alone. We are complex beings that have a deep desire to feel listened to. This week’s challenge: Note three non-verbal trends in a few people you interact with often. Then, write three ways you can be thoughtful in your relationship. 

It is completely normal for tension or friction to arise when people come in close proximity of each other, but it is our reaction to that tension or friction that matters. The body talks… please listen.