Three Nonverbal Signals We Can’t Escape
There are a bunch of nonverbal signals, but for the sake of brevity, I will focus on facial expressions, clothes, and body posture. It is vitally important to be aware of our external appearance, because this is what the world sees. Relationships and job opportunities are gained, or lost, because of judgments made by individuals whom we barely know. Observing and interacting with others is the best way to learn about communication, but first, we need to know what to look for.
The face is the first place most people will look. When meeting someone for the first time, smile! A calm and relaxed smile lightens the mood and prepares the receiver for an intimate interaction; whereas scowling unsettles the viewer (no one wants to piss off the person who already looks pissed off).
While listening to someone, a neutral face will indicate attentive listening. After initial interactions, it’s best to respond appropriately to the verbal communication being sent (e.g., laugh and smile if a joke is funny). Act natural, because acting the way we think someone wants us to will lead to misunderstandings later on (e.g., laughing at the boss’s jokes early on, which made them think they were hilarious, and now they keep telling unappealing jokes).
I wear activewear whenever possible, and I am aware of the message it sends—comfort, not conversation. Clothes communicate intentions before a single word is spoken. Appropriate dress attire requires an understanding of the environment and the people in attendance. For a date, I highly advise putting on nice clothes; but again, be authentic. It’s a good idea to have clothes for at least 3-5 dates, and then slowly dress down to your preferred fashion (also, forewarn them about your activewear obsession). When dressing for a job interview, always, ALWAYS ask what attire is appropriate—don’t wear a dress shirt and tie to an Applebee’s hosting interview (trust me on this one, I looked like the interviewer’s boss).
Body posture is one of the more ambiguous forms of nonverbal communication, but one of the easiest to adjust. Unlike facial expressions, which requires a mirror to observe, we can immediately scan our posture. Are our shoulders pulled back to assume proper posture for confidence and spinal health, or, are we slouching and conveying a sense of vulnerability?
“What do I do with my hands?” (Ricky Bobby, Talladega Nights). Crossed-arms while listening to our significant other is a real no-no; open those wings up a bit and engage with the conversation (see gesticulate). Crossed-arms communicates a defensive position, which is rarely the sender’s conscious intent (pointing this out at parties is a great conversation starter . . . and an even faster killer).
- Practice smiling in a mirror, then make as many facial expressions as possible; make sure to pay attention to the way your facial feels!
- After getting dressed, stand in front of a mirror. How do your clothes make you feel? Comfort is extremely important, but make sure you feel confident with what you’re wearing (especially if it’s for a date or work).
- Check your body posture at least once per day when having a conversation (e.g., at school or work). Remember, shoulders back and down, arms open.
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