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Soft skills and professional excellence:

Non-verbal communication

All verbal communication is affected by the non-verbal communication that accompanies it. Face to face, expression, gestures and posture also play an important part.

We use demonstrations and models to supplement words, visual aids to clarify lectures, and maps, diagrams, charts and graphs enhance both spoken and written communication.

Your preferred body positions and movements do say something about the kind of person you are. If your words say one thing and your body another, than people will believe your body, not your words.

Often more is conveyed by non-verbal than by verbal communication, yet on the whole it is an aspect of communication that is little considered.

Today, in several organizations, only people with excellent soft skills are considered for Managerial positions.

The nature of non-verbal communication

The major elements of non-verbal communication, excluding models, drawings can be divided into body language.

How body language communicates

Included under body language are facial expressions, gestures and posture, smell and touch; all are noticeable non-verbal communication symbols. Sometimes they are more meaningful than words, but we must be careful when interpreting them in our daily interpersonal communications.

They are important also for special occasions, interviews and speeches to groups.

Facial expressions

The eyes and face are especially helpful means of communicating non-verbally.

They can divulge hidden emotions-anger, annoyance, confusion, enthusiasm, fear, hatred, joy, love, interest, sorrow, surprise, uncertainty and others.

They can also contradict verbal statements.

It is obvious that facial expressions and use of gesture contribute much to communication. As important, though perhaps less easy to interpret, is posture.

The way we stand, or sit the position of the head, and hands, can speak volumes.

For example, a dejected person tends to slump, shoulders bowed and head low, while arms crossed and held tightly in front of one's chest indicates a defensive mood. What is interesting is that much of this body language is involuntary or unconscious. When we frown, look puzzled, twist a pen nervously in our fingers, sprawl in a chair, run upstairs, we can convey all sorts of obvious and subtle messages about our emotions, understanding, attitudes and health.

Some people are more skilled at hiding these involuntary signs than are others, but we all need to make the effort to do so at times, principally to avoid giving an unfavourable picture of ourselves to others and to avoid letting them feel that we are reacting unfavourably to them.

How appearance communicates

Appearance conveys non-verbal impressions that affect recipients' attitudes toward the verbal messages even before they read or hear them.

Effect on written messages

The envelopes overall appearance-size, colour, weight, postage-may impress the receiver as "important," "routine," or "junk" mail. Telegrams, Mailgrams, Express Mail and private courier mail also have distinctive envelopes that signal urgency and importance. Next, the letter report or title page communicates non-verbally even before its contents are read.

Also important are the appearance of a messages stationery and its length, format and typing. The enclosures-quantity and attractiveness (with or without charts, graphs, pictures) also give significant non-verbal impressions.

May people believe that the language of gesture is universal. Many people believe that one picture is worth a thousand words, the implication being that what we see is ever so much clearer than what is said.

Many people believe that communication means speaking and that misunderstandings only occur with speaking. Many people believe that smiling and frowning and clapping are purely natural expressions.

Non-verbal communication

communication that doesn't use words-takes place all the time. Smiles, frowns, who sits where at a meeting, the size of an office, how long someone keeps a visitor waiting-all these communicate pleasure or anger, friendliness or distance, power and status. Face-to-face commun ication offers multiple non-verbal cues, and phone calls offer limited non-verbal messages through tone of voice and pauses. Even written media offer minimal non-verbal signals through visual impact.

Non-verbal communication can include the following signals:

Voice qualities

* Tone of voice

* Pitch

* Stress

* Volume

Body language

* Posture and movement

* Eye contact

* Facial expressions and emotion

* Gestures

* Greetings


* Personal space

* Touching

* Spatial arrangements


* Waiting and lead time

* Number of things that happen at the same time


* Clothing


* Age

By controlling the non-verbal messages you send, you can project the image you desire.

Non-verbal communication plays a role in business. For one thing, it helps establish credibility and leadership potential. If you can learn to manage the impression you create with your body langauge, facial characteristics, voice and appearance, you can do a great deal to communicate that you are competent, trustworthy and dynamic.

At the same time, if you can learn to read other people's non-verbal messages, you will be able to interpret their underlying attitudes and intentions more accurately. In dealing with co-workers, customers, and clients, watch carefully for small signs that reveal how the conversation is going. If you aren't having the effect you want, check your words; then if your words are all right, try to be aware of the non-verbal meanings you are transmitting.

At the same time, stay tuned to the non-verbal signals that the other person is sending.

The varieties of nonverbal communication

For discussion purposes, however, these forms can be grouped into general categories, which include facial expressions and eye behaviour, gestures and postures, vocal characteristics, personal appearances, touching behaviour, and use of time and space.

Researchers have drawn some interesting conclusions about the meaning of certain non-verbal signals. But remember that the meaning of non-verbal communication is in the observer, who reads the meaning of specific signal and interprets in the context of the particular situation.

Non-verbal messages may be more important than words

The functions of non-verbal communication

People use non-verbal signals to support and clarify verbal communication. Although non-verbal communication can stand alone, it frequently works hand in hand with speech.

Our words carry part of the message and non-verbal signals carry the rest. Together, the two modes of expression make a powerful team, augmenting, reinforcing, and clarifying each other.

For example, imagine that you are running a meeting.

You might clear your throat and straighten up in your chair as you say, "I'd like to call the meeting to order now." Later you might hold up three fingers and say, "There are three things we need to decide on today."

As the meetings progresses, you might substitute gestures for comments nodding your head and smiling to show approval, frowning to express reservations.

You might also use non-verbal communication to regulate the flow of conversation; by tilting your head, for example, you could invite a colleague to continue with a comment. Finally, you might hedge your bets by saying one thing but implying another non-verbally.

Experts in non-verbal communication suggest that it has six specific functions:

* To provide information, either consciously or unconsciously

* To regulate the flow of conversation

* To express emotion

* To qualify, complement, contradict, or expand verbal messages

* To control or influence others

* To facilitate specific tasks, such as teaching a person

Common body signals

Psychologists and sales people know that arms folded across the chest signify defiance and refusals. The following are some other body language indicators which are especially common:

Action Meaning

Toes pointed outward - Confidence

Toes pointed inward - Submission

A jutting chin - Belligerence

Lip and nail biting - Disappointment/ Nervousness

Lip licking - Nervousness

Foot tapping - Impatience

Leaning backward - A relaxed attitude

Leaning forward - Interest

Open palms - Honesty

Rubbing hands together Excitement

Rubbing one eye -Deceit/Boredom

Scratching neck or head Uncertainty

Body Language

Use the following guidelines to make your body langauge more effective.

* Posture - Your posture should be upright but not stiff. When standing, keep your head up and shoulders back. Don't lean on the podium or table as you speak. When sitting, avoid slumping. It makes you appear to be uninterested and hurts your ability to produce effective sound.

* Movement - Move enough to show those with whom you are speaking that your are energetic but avoid purposeless pacing or fidgeting.

* Gestures - Make your gestures purposeful, appropriate, smooth, and economical. Keep them related to what you are saying. Avoid stilted, artificial moments of hands and arms. Practise your speeches in front of a mirror.

* Expression - Facial expressions such as gestures, can clarify meaning and provide emphasis. Dealing with a serious subject with a smile on your face or trying to suggest enthusiasm while your expression is blank sends a confusing message. Practising before a mirror can help you analyze how well you match your expressions to your thoughts.

* Eye contact - As you speak with people, concentrate on how they are reacting to what you are saying. By looking for feedback from those with whom you are speaking, you will be able not only to judge their reactions but also to convince them of your interest.

Final tips on Body Language

* It has no words or sentences - but it does send bits of information which combine into messages

* Those messages, which are sometimes clear and sometimes fuzzy, are mostly about your feelings.

* People can learn to read those messages with a fair degree of accuracy.

* Body langauge - you are sending messages non-verbally all the time.

* Your preferred body positions and movements do say something about the kind of person you are.

* If your words say one thing and your body another, then people will believe your body, not your words.

* You can change how you're feeling by consciously changing your body langauge.


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