Understanding nonverbal communication

Learning to listen to face, voice and body.

Communication is so much more than just the words that are spoken. Nonverbal communication conveys important messages from both the person speaking and the person listening. Those unspoken messages can signal if a person has strong emotions, feels respected or not and can show a person’s interest or disinterest in the conversation.

Good communication can help improve relationships with family, friends and co-workers. One way to improve your own communication skills is to be more aware of nonverbal signals you either send or receive. These signals can be positive or negative. Think about how someone’s face looks when you are talking. What tone of voice is used? What messages are you sending with the way you are standing or sitting? How does that make you feel? 

Michigan State University Extension suggests some examples of nonverbal communication as a way to help you increase your awareness and learn to listen to face, voice and body. 

  • Positive face – smile, laughter, empathetic face, head nod, eye contact.
  • Negative face – frown, sneer, fear face, cry, mocking laughter, smirk, angry face, disgust, glare.
  • Positive voice – caring, warm, soft, tender, relieved, empathetic, concerned, affectionate, loving, satisfied, bubbly, cheerful, chuckling, happy, joyful, laughing.
  • Negative voice – cold, tense, scared, impatient, hard, clipped, whining, blaming, sarcastic, angry, furious, loud, hurt, depressed, accusing.
  • Positive body – gentle touch, closeness, open arms, attention, relaxed, leaning forward.
  • Negative body – arms crossed, neck or hand tension, rude gestures, throwing hand up in disgust, pointing, inattention.

One more thing you can do to learn more about nonverbal communication is to be an observer. Watch people involved in conversations, either in real life or on television. Pay attention to the body language of the listener and consider how their actions affects the speaker. Look over the list of positive and negative face, voice and body. Think about whether they are conveying more positive or negative messages through nonverbal communication. 

Becoming more aware of nonverbal communication can help you to be a more effective communicator. In turn, it may improve your relationships, as you are more able to convey honest, genuine messages. Your words more closely match your face, voice and body. Effective communication helps to build trust and respect. It helps people learn more about each other’s feelings, thoughts, and common interests. It also helps people navigate relationships by gaining a deeper understanding of issues and working toward solutions that work for everyone. 

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