Are you aware of the power of non-verbal communication?

A French student came to stay with us for two weeks this summer and her understanding of English when she arrived was about the same as my French – limited! As we began to try to communicate I became aware of how intently I was listening to her and observing her; it wasn’t just about verbal communication - she was fairly shy – it was about all the things she wasn’t saying but doing.

How did I ‘know‘ she was shy? I deduced it from the way she looked at me, the way she moved her hands and tapped her foot when she spoke. And though all these signals were minuscule, I realised that for every group of gestures and expressions she made, I could interpret them as easily as if she had spoken words I understood. And if I was reading her micro expressions, then she could read mine as well.

For the first few days, instead of relying on Google Translate, I concentrated on exaggerating my non-verbal signals to match whatever I was saying in English. Our young French visitor caught on like wild fire and we began conversing in English and understanding each other, although part of this was rather like a stage play sometimes. After four days I could tell when we hit a word she didn’t understand simply by the fleeting muscle movement in her face.

Each day we also spent time with the horses and it was fascinating to observe her communicating with them and them with her. As their whole world is non-verbal they were quick to understand and respond to our visitor. Every day we went for a ride and I noticed that after a just a few hundred yards on horseback she was gaining confidence, and becoming much more verbal and fluent in the English language.

Good communication is partly about listening and observing, and these skills can come into play in the most unexpected places. For our French student, exaggerating non-verbal language improved our communications as well as giving her more confidence. And when she communicated with the horses it was just the same – words were redundant, so interpretation of non-verbal communication became of paramount importance; yet she did it quickly and easily. It’s amazing how much we all subconsciously pick up on non-verbals and accurately interpret them at a much faster rate than we do words.

You may not think this is relevant to you as might not have to engage with non-English speakers. But the next time you are having a difficult conversation, maybe at work or socially, imagine that person does not speak or understand you verbally. You may find that non-verbal communication is an easier conversation!

These skills are innate, but they can be honed. If you want to know more about improving your non-verbal communication, please give me a call.

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