- Explain the areas of nonverbal communication that can be assessed and improved.
- Discuss the importance of observation when it comes to improving nonverbal behaviors.
- Understand that nonverbal communication is a skill that requires practice.
In this chapter, we’ve examined a wide range of issues related to nonverbal communication. But it’s one thing to understand nonverbal communication and something completely different to communicate using nonverbal behaviors effectively. In this section, we’re going to explore some ways that you can start to improve your nonverbal skills.
The Nonverbal Mindset
When it comes to effective communication, you need to develop an appropriate mindset towards nonverbal communication. First, individuals must be aware that nonverbal communication plays a significant role in creating meaning.
Second, individuals must believe nonverbal communication is important and impactful. Awareness of nonverbal communication without the belief that it is important can result in negative outcomes. For example, students in nonverbal communication begin to learn about the importance of clothing and general appearance in creating impressions. Some students “rebel” against the idea that appearance and clothing matter stating, “people should accept me no matter what I am wearing.” While this would be ideal, the fact of the matter is that humans size up other humans using visual cues in initial interactions.
Lastly, individuals can analyze their nonverbal communication. This can be accomplished in several ways. Individuals might observe the behavior of individuals who seem to be liked by others and to whom others are socially attracted. The individual should then compare the behaviors of the “popular” person to their own behaviors. What differences exist? Does the other individual smile more, make more or less eye contact, engage in more or less touch, etc.? Based on this comparison, individuals can devise a plan for improvement or perhaps no improvement is needed!
In addition to awareness of nonverbal communication, believing that nonverbal communication is important and analyzing one’s own behavior, individuals should be aware of nonverbal immediacy. Immediacy is defined as physical and psychological closeness. More specifically, Mehrabian defines immediacy as behaviors increasing the sensory stimulation between individuals. 36 Immediacy behaviors include being physically oriented toward another, eye contact, some touch, gesturing, vocal variety, and talking louder. Immediacy behaviors are known to be impactful in a variety of contexts.
In instructional, organizational, and social contexts, research has revealed powerful positive impacts attributable to immediacy behaviors, including influence and compliance, liking, relationship satisfaction, job satisfaction, and learning, etc. In the health care setting, the positive outcomes of nonverbally immediate interaction are well documented: patient satisfaction,37,38 understanding of medical information,39,40 patient perceptions of provider credibility,41 patient perceptions of confidentiality,42 parent recall of medical directives given by pediatricians and associated cognitive learning,43 affect for the provider,44,45 and decreased apprehension when communicating with a physician.46 Individuals can increase their immediacy behaviors through practice!
- Voice, body movement, eye contact, and facial expression can be assessed and improved upon to become a more effective communicator.
- Successful communicators can be observed and modeled.
- Practicing nonverbal communication is no different from practicing other skills, such as playing an instrument or cooking.
- Record your voice and listen to the recording several times. Use the questions included in the “analyze your voice” section of this chapter. Make a note of areas where you believe you are doing well and areas where you may need improvement. Ask a friend to listen to your voice and respond to the question for additional feedback.
- Video record a conversation between you and a friend/s. (Make sure everyone approves of being recorded.) As a group, review your facial expressions, body movements, and gestures. Discuss your nonverbal behavior as a group being certain to compliment areas of success and ask for constructive feedback if you are comfortable doing so.
- Select a nonverbal specific behavior such as greeting through a wave or eye contact. Use this nonverbal behavior in a manner that is inconsistent with the accepted use of this nonverbal behavior. For example, avoid eye contact completely with a friend or kiss a friend on the cheek instead of simply saying hello. Make a note of your reaction as well as the reaction of your friend. (Be prepared to explain your behavior to your friend.)
- Take an inventory of your nonverbal communication skills by answering the following questions. Do you believe nonverbal communication is important? Why or why not? Which subcategories of nonverbal communication are your strengths and weaknesses? How can you improve on these weaknesses?