Listen Beyond Words by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

When people talk about a good communicator, what they often mean is someone who is articulate and able to get her or his point across in a discussion. While speaking effectively is one part of communication, the actual words you use are only a small part of the complete message.

There are many different statistics about the percentage of a message that is verbal and the part that is non-verbal. The actual numbers are not important. What is important is that non-verbal components of an interaction are equally critical in getting the message across.

Non-Verbal Communication

There are many different types of non-verbal communication. These can include facial expressions, movement of the eyes, body language and positioning, gestures, speech patterns (tone, cadence, volume) as well as touch and overall appearance.

It is essential, as the speaker, to monitor the non-verbal communication of the listener. If there is a mismatch between the verbal message and the non-verbal, the speaker can easily ask questions, make observations, or provide time for the other person to ask questions, get clarity, provide their insight, or simply to check-in and make sure everything is understood and clear.

Noticing Disagreement, Frustration, Uncertainty, or Confusion

When the individual’s verbal message and non-verbal message are not aligned, it is more likely that the non-verbal signals are what the individual is really thinking and feeling at the time.

For example, a new manager may feel uncertain about the information he or she provides to employees. They avoid eye contact, distance themselves from others, or have a harsh or louder tone of voice. It is also possible they try to make themselves very small and to try to go unnoticed. Yet, when asked if they need any help from senior leadership, they will answer they have everything under control.

In this scenario, the verbal message “I have this under control” is not congruent with the bluster or the trying to avoid answering questions from employees. By noting this disharmony between the verbal and non-verbal, a senior manager can provide additional information, retraining, or mentoring before the new manager has to make the difficult step of acknowledging they are in over their head.

The same type of scenario can occur between sales reps and customers, parents and kids, or in any other type of relationship.

Listening for Alignment

Listening to the non-verbal signals communication is also a good way to know if the audience is on board. It is an essential skill for sales, as it lets you know when to make the offer and if the customer is ready to agree to the deal.

Keep in mind, non-verbal communication has cultural differences. Be aware of this issue and never assume a gesture, eye contact, or even body posture is the same for all people and in all situations.