Why should anyone care how their nonverbal behaviour is or want to learn what someone else is intending to say, when he has the right to communicate whatever he wants to, using words? Wouldn’t it be similar to either tweaking yourself to fool someone or peeping into someone’s mind without his permission?
Often, there are bridges left in communication, and learning to read someone’s nonverbal behaviour might help you to bridge that gap.
Here are a few of the reasons why there can be these bridges
1. Emotional filters: You might remember the story from the moral science session back in school, of how a man’s day starts on the wrong side of the bed and he gets fired from his job, making him angry and annoyed. This makes him take out his anger on his wife and slap her.
The wife shouts on the child and the child beats up the dog. All of this could have been possibly avoided if the wife would have known the normal “baseline” behaviour of her husband and given him benefit of doubt when he behaved in a manner which was against his normal behaviour.
2. Prejudices: Prejudice towards or against another individual, group or activity is usually unfounded and normally based on heard opinions or media influences. Prejudices can be in yourself or in the individual you are dealing or interacting with.
It is relatively easier to get an idea if the prejudice occurs in another individual if you can read his nonverbal behaviour, like facial expressions, standing position etc. If the prejudice is in yourself, learning to introspect and understand your nonverbal responses to situations can help you evolve as an individual.
3. Pre conditioned responses: An HR person who is used to conducting interviews day after day could have unconsciously categorized individuals into general categories and would treat the next candidate he meets according to the type he belongs to.
This is called stereotyping. We might be stereotyping individuals in our normal course of work without paying conscious attention to it. Although such heuristics come as an almost natural instinct to us as humans and have helped us emerge at the top of the rung in the survival of the fittest, there is a danger of overlooking the good qualities of a person, if he is discarded due to the stereotype he fits into.
At such times, in our above example, if the interviewer knows what scientific cues to look for in the individual to either confirm him in that type or treat him as a new category, it can mean the difference between rejecting a good candidate and finding a long term employee.
4. Emotional baggage: A person’s sensitivity to another’s emotions generally depends to a lot of extent on the emotional journey he has undertaken so far in his own life. A person prone to violence at his home would not think too much before shouting on his colleagues at work.
Similarly, a person who has spent a majority of his life in comfort and ease would find it difficult to empathize with a person from a lesser lucky upbringing. Knowing how to read other people’s behaviour traits and responding intelligently to them makes for a good leader.
This can be achieved if one learns to master the tells of nonverbal behaviour of others, if he has not had a chance to learn about them in his natural upbringing.
5. Choice of words: A person with less command over his language might not be able to use suitable words to express his exact feelings or thoughts. Paying attention to his nonverals would give a clue as to how sincere he is in his words, and whether he is meaning something even more sincerely than the words he is using to express.
A warning bell would ring at a time when the nonverbal actually contradict the words that another individual is using. At such a time, the listener knows that he needs to dig deeper – the story is not what seems to be getting communicated.
6. Choice of method of communication: Nonverbal cues are easiest to detect and decipher in face to face interactions. But that does not mean their interpretation extends only to such interactions. In phone conversations, attention can be paid to the pauses of the person, the pitch of the voice, the stress in the voice etc to get an idea about the state of mind of the person.
I once worked with a person who was very perceptive over the phone. He would get my mood within a fraction after my greeting him with a hello. This type of receptivity to others’ cues in different modes of communication, and using strategies like audio back channelling can make you more efficient as a leader.
Even emails and chat windows have their own non verbal cues which can be learnt and mastered over time.
Most of the gaps in communication occur because of differences in individuals’ behaviours, emotions, and receptivity to others. Nonverbal cues of every individual are a reflection of all these responses and hence their importance in daily walks of life.