The 11 Essential non-verbal communication skills

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Introduction to the Essential Skills

  • ‘Non-verbal’ refers to everything other than the spoken words themselves. It consists of both a Vocal component (how we sound) and a Visual component (what we do and look like.)
  • Non-verbal communication skills are not the same as ‘body language’. Body language ismoreconcerned with trying to interpret what someone’s gestures mean.
  • This series of videos is designed to help you improve the quality of your communication.

Posture. The continuum, Be congruent, Be synchronised

Have good posture, breathe properly and look your best

  • It’s best to stand or sit up straight but,at the same time, look natural
  • Slouching doesn’t look good but nor doespushing your chest out and holding a pose where you look stiff and uncomfortable.
  • You should breathe naturally like you do when you’re relaxed. Breathe in by letting the diaphragm naturally contract. This action brings air into the lungs and pushes the abdomen out. If you’d like to know more about breathing naturally –often called diaphragmatic breathing –please consult your health specialist.

Make use of the ‘welcoming to resolute’ continuum

  • It is a natural continuum.
  • Towards the ‘welcoming’ end we have behaviours which are what we’ll call friendly and open. They include smiling, nodding, having the relaxed shoulders and holding the hands out to the sides of the body with the palms up. The voice tends to fluctuate in pitch a littleand ‘bounce along’.
  • Towards the ‘resolute’end we have behaviours which are ‘serious’.These behaviours include having the head still, having the voice fairly even, having the body still but not necessarily rigid, and keeping the hands might still be held out from the body but generally the palms are down.

Be congruent

  • You need to make sure your hand movements, body movements, expressions, posture, and everything else you do, matches what you say.
  • That is, you need to make sure your words and your non-verbal communication are congruent.
  • People tend to be naturally congruent. For example, if you are happy and you say you are, then youusually look happy as well
  • However, it’s easy to not be congruent and unfortunately people notice and can find it disconcerting and confusing. And they tend to read into your behaviour things which mightn’t actually be there.

Synchronise your actions with your words

  • It’s important to make sure certain body movements, gestures, facial expression sand eye movements are synchronised with the words that come out your mouth. That is, they work in unison.
  • If you don’t, people can find you confusing and, in some cases, rude.
  • As a general rule, when you start speaking you also start certain associated movements. And when you stop speaking, you complete the associated action and stop.
  • Being synchronised makes you look good and sound good. It helps people follow what you’re saying and helps keep them interested. And it makes people feel you care. But it requires effort.

Timelines, Hold attention, Anchor ideas, Direct people.

Show timelines and graphs from the audience’s perspective

  • If you’re looking at a timeline say on a board or chart in front of you -in western culture at least –we usually have the past on the left, the present in the middle and the future towards our right.
  • But when we’re facing an audience, we’re looking in the opposite direction to them.
  • Their left –where the past is to them –is now on our right. And their right –where the future is to them –is now on our left.
  • This means when we’re looking at an audience, and we want to help them understand what we’re talking about, we need to reverse the usual direction of our timeline so it matches their perspective

Choose and then hold a position to focus attention and make a point

  • It’s often useful to choose and maintain a set position with your body, head, a look, and of course with your arms and hands.
  • First, it can stop you moving unnecessarily and being distracting.
  • Second, it can help the person you’re talking to, focus and treat the issue seriously and can be used in combination with other skills such as the skill of being congruent.
  • If you said, for example, “There are five things we need to talk about.” then choosing to hold a hand up with 5 fingers spread out and the holding the position for some time, can be very effective.

Anchor ideas, concepts, messages and objects

  • Allocating a concept, a point, a message or an object (real or imagined) to a location, another object, body movement (gesture, expression, action, …), word, story (anecdote, …), etc is often referred to as anchoring.
  • It’s a powerful tool. It helps the audience find what we’re saying interesting. It helps them follow, remember and recall what we’re talking about.
  • And it gives us very useful shortcuts when we want to revisit an idea etc.
  • Anchoring can be done deliberately or it can be done accidentally. Doing it deliberately is best because we can then use the ‘anchor’ when and how we want.

Direct and hold people’s attention

  • We need to be clear about what we want the audience to look at. And the audience wants to know what to look at.
  • If they’re not clear, they can get confused, lose interest and perhaps even get annoyed.
  • One way of getting the audience to look at something we’ve displayed on a screen is to simply turn on the display. Others are to talk about it, point to it, turn our head towards it, look at it and perhaps even move towards it.
  • What we want to do then is to hold their attention on the image. And the best way to do this is to hold, as much as is practicable, our own attention on the image.

Assigning and Associating

Deliberately assign the attributes you want to people, objects, places and concepts.

  • Sometimes when we’re speaking, we can -deliberately or otherwise -assign positive attributes and characteristics (like good, friendly, helpful, amusing, healthy, adult, etc) to people and objects.
  • And we can also apply negative attributes and characteristics.
  • Assigning attributes and characteristics to people, objects, places on the stage or in the room,and to concepts, is a very useful skill.
  • It’s best if we are aware of it and, if we assign an attribute to a thing or a person, we do it deliberately.

Associate ideas, information, objects and emotions that should go together. And dissociate the rest

  • In the 1970s, I was a Tourist Guide at Jenolan Caves, NSW Australia.
  • Before we took our party of tourists inside a cave, we had to tell them the rules. (We had to be on the ‘resolute’ end of the continuum.)
  • After that, we had to be more friendly. We had to welcome the tourist sand put them at ease.
  • I was given some great advice. It was to separate or dissociate ‘Mark the rule-giver’ from ‘Mark the friendly yet professional tourist guide’.
  • Associating things ideas, information, objects, emotions and feelings) that should go together, and dissociating those that are better off separated, increases the quality of your communication.

Use eye contact carefully. And bonus videos.

Use eye contact when it’s appropriate

  • Like many people, when I was very young, my parents taught me the importance of eye contact.If someone gave you a present, you didn’t just grab the present and run off, you looked at them and shook their hand, gave them a kiss, or whatever was appropriate. It was basic manners.
  • But eye contact is not always the best option.It doesn’t always enhance the quality of your communication.
  • For example, in one of the ‘essential skills’ -the skill of directing someone’s attention and holding it–the best option is to, much of the time at least, look at what you’re talking about and not always at the person or the audience.
  • Another example is when you are talking to someone about a document –such as to your son or daughter about their report card,or to an employee about a document they’ve written (hard copy or digital) –it can be important to look at, and talk about, the report card or document rather than continually look at the person

Bonus video 1: Things to avoid

  • The basic rule is: Avoid doing anything people could find distracting or,worse still, annoying.So, avoid:
  • Looking around the room for no particular reason or looking at something like the ceiling unless it’s specifically done to enhance the quality of your communication.
  • Pointing at people. It’s annoying, distracting and rude.
  • Unnecessarily gesturing such as moving your hands around for no clear purpose.
  • Anything that interrupts the flow of what you’re speaking about such as slapping the thighs or clicking of fingers.
  • Fidgeting

Bonus video 2: Where did Mark get his ideas from?

  • As a ‘telegram boy’, I was shown how you deliver a good news telegram. This is how you deliver a bad news telegram.
  • As a tourist guide at Jenolan Caves in New South Wales, in the 70s, I was taught how to stand and where to give the rules and regulations. And what to do after that to welcome people to the tour.
  • In 1976, when I was completing my Diploma of Education, a lecturer told us about having a particular spot where you might stand to give the rules to the class, where you make a joke, where you explain something, where you want to tell the children that the volume of noise was too high, etc.
  • In the 1980s I did a course on neuro-linguistic programming. The presenter talked about anchoring which I’d learned about in my Dip Ed along with having set spots throughout the classroom.
  • In Toastmasters I had a lot of skills reinforced.

Bonus video 3: Some final comments

  • Good visual skills enhance the quality of your communication.
  • They help you get your message across and engage with those to whom you’re speaking.
  • Poor visual skills can confuse and annoy people. And hence, make them uninterested and disengaged.
  • When you know what to do visually,and do it, you increase the quality of your communication, you’re more confident and you’re less nervous.
  • There are some wonderful speakers and presenters who don’t have great non-verbal skills. However, because thevalue of their content is very high, people will listen to them regardless.
  • There’s more to each of the 11 essential skills than has been discussed in the videos. And there are other skills.