According to some studies, communication between people is more that 50% non-verbal. That being the case, we all should take a moment to make sure we are not unintentionally sending out the wrong messages, either at home to our loved ones or in a more formal setting such as at work with colleagues or professional contacts.
I have written these 10 tips that you can apply to a personal or professional relationship as appropriate.
1. The eyes are the windows to the soul. They display what your heart is feeling. Look deeply into your partner's eyes when you are having a conversation, whether the topic is simple or serious.
2. Pay attention to your body position and posture. Leaning forward and facing your loved one unconsciously communicates receptiveness and interest. Turning away or staring off into space says you're not really there.
3. A gentle squeeze of the hand or a touch on the arm while listening to your mate says that you are hearing him or her and that you empathise.
4. Your face speaks volumes. A frown, a disapproving look, or rolling your eyes will communicate judgment. Don't let your face speak before you are ready with the appropriate words. Notice how just a nod of your head can send a message of encouragement or, if done in a negative manner, disapproval.
5. Avoid distractions. If you are not fully focused on whomever you are trying to connect with, he or she will notice that you are not completely engaged in the conversation. This sends the message that you don't care.
6. Shaking hands can send a powerful message. For example, the two-handed shake expresses deep sincerity, a high five shows mutual approval, and a sincere grip inspires trust. Avoid a limp or cupped handshake; it will make the other person question the connection.
7. Be aware of personal space. Physical proximity is important. Some people need as much as a metre between themselves and the person they are talking to. In intimate relationships, this distance could make someone feel unloved. If you don't know what's comfortable for the other person, just ask.
8. Gestures can mean different things to different people. In some cultures, waving your hand can say, "Good to see you," and in others, the same movement can express something derogatory. Learn to be sensitive to how people whom you care about interpret your movements.
9. Smells, clothing, and colour choices all send messages. Your perfume could be alluring, overpowering, or offensive. It could also make those with more sensitive noses sneeze. Our clothing says we're cool, we're conservative, or we don't care. Pay attention to how others react to your personal style and make sure you're not sending unintentional messages.
10. If you really want to get a good read on how you come across to other people, videotape yourself talking. If you don't like something you see, you have the power to change it.
Becoming aware of your ability to communicate non-verbally can stop molehills from becoming mountains and can help you navigate the most challenging conversations.
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Dr Barton Goldsmith is author of Emotional Fitness for Couples.