9 January 2008

Non-Verbal Communication: Are we Being Heard?

Many years ago when I was working in an office something happened that has made me think twice about what I say to people, or in some cases if I should say anything at all.

I was making my way to the photocopier and was intent on getting there, when I rounded the corner and there she was in the most ridiculous outfit I had ever seen. In surprise, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was - “Nice outfit”! My next thought was, “Oh no, now I’ve encouraged her to wear it again”. But the damage had been done, I couldn’t take it back.

I am sure we all remember our mother’s telling us, “If you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all”. If you are a parent you have probably said the same thing to your own children. Can we communicate by saying nothing? I think we can and by not uttering a word we can be heard loud and clear.

Take for example, if you get a new haircut and nobody, absolutely nobody, says anything about it. Don’t you get the impression that they don’t care for it? If you directly ask someone they might say, it’s nice, but remember you had to solicit the compliment and it doesn’t mean the same thing. People generally do not want to intentionally hurt the other person’s feelings so if we don’t like something we generally don’t say anything at all.

I take the bus to work and I notice when a bus comes by that is not the one I am waiting for, the bus driver and I communicate without saying a word. I turn my face a bit and take a step back or look down. He looks at my non-verbal language and assumes I do not want that bus and continues along his route.

I think husbands and wives and people who have known each other a long time have probably experienced this on a deeper level. They get to know each other so well that they can communicate with a glance, a slight nod or a smile.

What about at the office? Do we knowingly or unknowingly give non-verbal messages to our bosses and co-workers?

I remember at one job I was in it was extremely busy and I got to ‘sighing’ when my boss brought me more work. It became a joke between us until my performance appraisal time and one of the questions was, “how do I handle my workload?”. My boss had four options to choose from and yes, you guessed it, one of the options was “sighs loudly when given work”. My sighing could have given my boss the impression that I didn’t have time for more work and it wasn’t welcomed. I haven’t sighed since, but my boss and I laughed about that one for a long time.

I think we can communicate to our co-workers without saying a word by our smile or lack of it. A smile is welcoming and pleasant and people are drawn to you when you smile. By our smile we show ourselves to be approachable and pleasant. Your boss will not feel he is burdening you with his requests. On the other hand we can greet those who dare come to our desk with a ‘what now’ look and we leave people with the impression that we do not want to be helpful and don’t you dare ask.

Do you ever wonder if your boss is listening to you by his non-verbal communication? His eyes may be on the computer screen or he is not giving you his full attention in other ways. Most business professionals are extremely busy and sometimes they are thinking of their next task or a problem that needs to be solved. This probably would not be the best time for you to sit down and ask for a raise.

I might have done the woman with the awful outfit a favour by saying absolutely nothing and looking away and she would have gotten the impression that her outfit was not appealing to the eye. The next time you see someone with a loud or horrible outfit on you can blame me or someone like me for saying ‘nice outfit’.

Communication is important whether at work or at home, but remember we can also communicate without saying a word and that may be speaking louder than our words.

No comments: