About non-verbal communication means
Means of non-verbal communication can be considered all means of communication that are not related to speech and act on the human sense organs – postures, gestures, movements, facial expressions, eye movements, direction and duration of gaze, smile, intonation, distance chosen for communication, position in space, etc.
Non-verbal communication is present in all spheres of human communication – you cannot do without it in personnel management, in sales and negotiations, in upbringing and education, in close relationships, and in public speaking.
Psychologists back in the 60s-80s of the last century studied in detail the features of this sphere of information transfer in communication, but this deep knowledge turned out to be extremely difficult to apply in the practice of everyday communication, both in terms of assessing and interpreting “non-speech signals” and in terms of the conscious application of non-verbal communication techniques to influence other people.
Why is it difficult to deliberately use non-verbal communication and monitor their impact
There are several reasons for this.
- Reason one. We are unable to impartially monitor other people’s non-speech signals, as we cannot help being influenced by them. A smile, open palms, a look, a relaxed posture, benevolent facial expressions make the person who demonstrates them unconsciously positively perceive. A tense posture, furrowed eyebrows, and compressed lips of the interlocutor will cause you discomfort and anxiety. Even if you are ready to consciously tune in to the fact that these signs mean nothing to you, you can hardly ignore them. Think of how your mood changes when you see someone close to you silently sad or try to sincerely smile at a client who is clearly not in the mood for positive communication. The way you unconsciously react to the behavior of other people will certainly change your behavior and your perception, including speech information.
- Reason two. It is difficult for a person to control his own non-verbal behavior. Of course, this is easier than controlling the extent to which you are exposed to non-verbal signals from other people. It is possible to “master” a set of signs of “correct” non-verbal behavior for certain situations, but this does not mean at all that you will be able to demonstrate them at the right moment of communication. Non-verbal behavior is largely determined by habits and unconscious individual characteristics of a person, which is why it is so difficult to constantly consciously control outgoing non-verbal signals.
- Reason three. It is impossible to unambiguously interpret non-speech signals. Your interlocutor may cover his mouth with his hand not because he is lying, but because he is embarrassed by teeth defects. I have great respect for Alan Pisa and other popularizers of “body language”, but it seems to me that a categorical interpretation of the meanings of postures, gestures, and facial expressions may rather mislead those who are trying to do this than facilitate understanding of the interlocutor. This especially applies to situations of communication with people whom you do not know very well, and whose usual behavior is unfamiliar to you. Even if we turn to the experience of using a polygraph, which impartially registers universal physiological indicators, it should be recognized that the quality of the conclusions obtained with the help of it is seriously influenced by the qualifications of the specialist using it.
- Reason four. The human brain is not able to simultaneously analyze information coming through non-speech and speech channels. If you don’t believe me, ask someone to tell a true story and lie a little about it. Try to track down the moment of the lie and find out how difficult it is. As a student, I took part in a two-day training in lie recognition, where the group tried to identify the moment when the person who was telling the whole truthful story began to lie. The problem faced by all participants – attempts to constantly monitor non-verbal reactions blocked the perception of verbal information. Conversely, focusing on the content of speech interfered with the perception of non-speech signals even though we only listened and watched without taking part in the conversation, and in theory, knew which signals to track.
What means of non-verbal communication should be consciously used
First of all, those simple techniques of non-verbal communication, the use of which, obviously, will achieve the desired result.
These include smiling, maintaining eye contact, and open postures – uncrossed hands and feet, open palms, the demonstration of which unconsciously inspires confidence since a stone was hidden in a fist as a weapon.
The technique of “mirroring” or “joining” is also considered quite effective, when posture and gestures are implicitly used for communication, repeating the postures and gestures of the interlocutor, for example, you bend over to the interlocutor, who all leaned towards you.
And if you can at least periodically remind yourself of the need to control your postures, facial expressions, and gestures, this will be enough to increase the effectiveness of non-verbal communication.
I admit that more can be achieved with the help of constant training used to train employees of special services and other representatives of professions in whose activities non-verbal communication is very important (for example, aircraft stewards), but such programs are practically not used in the training of most specialists are used.
Distance, location in space and obstacles as a means of non-verbal communication
As my friend, an expert in martial arts, says, before you start attacking or defending yourself, you need to evaluate what you can use from your arsenal, taking into account the distance to the enemy, position about him, and the presence of obstacles.
Next, you either apply the techniques that are available to you in this situation or you yourself change the situation in such a way as to increase your chances of achieving the desired result – shorten or increase the distance, take a comfortable position, remove or create obstacles.
Interestingly, consciously and unconsciously, we use the same techniques in everyday communication.
Let’s figure out how distance, relative position in space and the presence of obstacles in communication with other people affect.
Distance as a way to provide the necessary communication style
It is customary to distinguish 4 types of distance used for communication.
The intimate distance is 0-50 cm. This is the distance at which close people can communicate. Spouses, children and parents, close friends.
Personal distance – 50-150 – distance for communication of familiar people, for conversation. It is convenient to have a conversation at this distance.
Social distance – 150-400 – the distance at which strangers communicate. This is the distance for formal communication.
Public distance. – 400-750. For public speaking.
The indicated distances are conditional and can vary both depending on intercultural differences and depending on the situations in which communication takes place.
Location in space as a means of non-verbal communication
The location of the interlocutors opposite each other provides the ability to completely visually control any changes in the position and movement of the interlocutor and maintain constant eye contact, which is not very comfortable when communicating.
Such placement in space is typical for communication associated with rivalry or confrontation, for example, in negotiations, when both sides do not care about comfort, but complete control over the situation and the willingness to immediately respond to any change in the behavior of the other side.
Neutral comfort for communication is placed at a 90-degree angle.
This is because eye contact during communication is not constant – it is difficult to concentrate under a gaze, and the position “at an angle” is the most comfortable for communication – you do not need to specifically look away while thinking about your words.
At the same time, such placement presupposes the ability to trust the interlocutor to a certain extent.
People who know each other well can stand or sit side by side.
Such an arrangement means trust and mutual understanding, since, firstly, the distance between the interlocutors is minimal, and secondly, it implies the absence of the need to constantly look at the interlocutor to make sure that he understands your words.
Barriers and their impact on communication style and effectiveness
Any obstacle to open communication, even folded arms, is unconsciously perceived as a desire to isolate oneself from communication and a defensive reaction.
However, obstacles are not always removable. Moreover, they are often deliberately used to establish optimal communication distances, such as tall information center counters in hypermarkets and large desks in executive offices.
Examples of the impact of distance, location in space and obstacles on communication between people
Any of us, having shown some observation, will find around us many examples of how the location in space affects communication.
Intimate distance or, as they say, personal space: we feel comfortable and safe when close people are at an intimate distance.
An intrusion into this zone of a stranger is perceived as an extreme degree of discomfort and even aggression.
People riding in a cramped elevator or a crowded subway car, as a rule, avoid meeting their eyes, emphatically looking away.
To feel comfortable again, we try to choose the appropriate distance for the communication situation.
Quite the opposite, professional boxers and MMA fighters behave, showing aggression as an element of the show during weigh-in and before the start of the fight.
They deliberately come close to the opponent and stare into each other’s eyes.
The practice of business communication and diplomatic protocol provides many illustrative examples.
Executive offices are made large for more than just meetings.
The larger the office, the longer and wider the table, the more formal communication becomes.
Even at the moment when a subordinate crosses the threshold of the manager’s office, the distance at which contact is established already sets the communication style.
By the distance at which the heads of state are located during official negotiations, it is customary to judge the degree of trust between leaders and relations between states.
Official negotiations are held “wall to wall” at a large long table.
The width of the table sets the distance between all parties to the negotiations, the position “against each other” reflects the situation of rivalry in the negotiations and allows you to track all the details of the behavior of the other party to the negotiations.
If a leader and a subordinate are located opposite each other, as, for example, meetings of officials and the head of state take place, this emphasizes the complete control over the situation of the leader, who has the ability to closely monitor the subordinate.
The only thing that makes communication more comfortable for the speaker is that the table for such meetings is small and reduces the communication distance to personal. Although there is another side of such distance – more control and attention to detail.
Meetings and negotiations, during which the equality of status of all parties is emphasized, are most often held at a round table.
Meetings of leaders of states are held on soft chairs at an angle.
In this case, there is no obstacle in the form of a table, the chair allows you to take a relaxed open position, although an angle of more than 90 degrees between the chairs of the interlocutors emphasizes formal communication.
Meeting participants always have the opportunity to make contact more informal by reducing the angle by turning the body towards the interlocutor and thereby emphasizing the importance of his words and the importance of communicating with him.
Protocol movements, when leaders walk or stand nearby, photos at the moment of a handshake – all these are examples of deliberate use of distance and location in space to send non-verbal signals to the audience.
Although it happens that the situation gets out of control and beyond the scope of the protocol – someone turned away from someone, someone did not notice someone or did not want to notice – any involuntary non-verbal reaction in politics is a subject of proceedings and interpretations.
To complete the listing of “protocol” examples, I will note the format used in forums and round tables. High-status guests often sit in low soft armchairs openly standing on the stage, which emphasizes the informality of communication and reduces the distance between the guest and the audience, since the posture in an armchair implies openness and a deliberately informal style of communication.
The same effect is often used by heads of companies, in whose offices there are both large tables and chairs for formal meetings, and soft chairs for informal communication, in which it is simply physically difficult to take a stable protective posture.
I will conclude the list of examples with situations of communication at a public distance.
- Example 1 – Ambassadors presenting their credentials when the distance excluding personal communication highlights the difference in status between ambassadors and the head of state.
- Example 2 – Conducting presentations, seminars, and conferences, when interactive interaction is permissible only with participants who are in the forefront. The further the speaker is from the participant who asks him a question, the more formal the answer becomes, and, as often happens, it is suggested to continue communication after the end of the event.