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The Slippery Slope of Relying on Non-Verbal Communication

Over 70% of people rely on non-verbal communication over talking.

Key points

  • Relying solely on body language forces people to guess your intentions.
  • While you're communicating it's important to maintain a zone of personal space that's mutually comfortable.
  • Most people rely on eye contact to express emotions which can easily be misinterpeted, and lead to non-verbal guessing.
  • Touch is effective in intimate relationships but even then it's better accompanied by verbal expession.

Have you ever noticed or been conscious of how often you communicate non-verbally with your partner, business associates, friends, and family? People regularly make assumptions about other people’s motivations or thoughts from their nonverbal communication. They do this in the absence of verbal communication to confirm or reject verbal content. Most people take it for granted, but experts estimate that 70 to 93 percent of all communication is nonverbal.

However, relying only, or primarily, on nonverbal communication is a slippery slope that may lead to chaos in personal interactions. That’s why it’s important to limit your potential assumptions based on non-verbal communication about what people may be thinking. Instead, focus on transparently communicating.

Here are four prominent ways people communicate non-verbally that you should monitor and try to limit as much as possible.

1. Body Language. It’s important to realize that certain types of body language can make you look either interested or disinterested in a conversation. For example, crossing your arms and standing astride may imply that you’re not open to a conversation or are eager to leave. However, when you open your arms and stand straight, it gives the impression you’re focused and alert. Carefully consider your behavior and understand it may not accurately convey your intention.

2. Personal Space. Maintaining a safe zone of personal space while you’re communicating is imperative. When a person stands too close, it can threaten; too far and it suggests a desire to flee. Determine the personal bubble distance between yourself and the person you’re conversing with that is most comfortable and maintain it.

3. Eye Contact. Eye contact is one of the most prominent forms of non-verbal communication. A steady gaze with occasional blinking shows interest. Staring at someone is intimidating. Looking inadvertently askance or eye rolling at a person expresses disinterest and dismissiveness. Be aware of how you are looking at the person with whom you are communicating.

4. Touch. Touching can play a complicated role in the messages you send to another person. It’s used successfully in an intimate relationship to communicate sympathy and compassion, but still works better in tandem with a verbal expression. Adversely, using touch in a professional setting may be off-putting—even if it's done innocently. Verbal communication is much safer, in either case, and can effectively complement touch in intimate relationships.

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It’s impossible to avoid non-verbal communication altogether, or to develop a strategy that works with everyone you know. Stay vigilant to prevent people from making incorrect assumptions about your thinking, motivations, or intentions. Be aware there are people who will expect both non-verbal and verbal confirmation. And if you want to limit your risks, using verbal communication is usually safer, more effective, and a kinder way to interact.

References

Kendra Cherry, (July 27, 2020). "Types Of Non-Verbal Communication." Verywellmind.

Kelly Strain, (April 27, 2020). "How Much Of Communication is Really Non-Verbal?" Premiere Global Services.

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