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Have you thought about how well you communicate with other people? How your body language and what you are saying are perceived by others? Communication is not just words coming out of our mouth, it is everything about us that relays a message, our whole presentation! Communication can be defined as an exchange of feelings, ideas and information whether by speaking, writing, or body language. It is at the core of how people relate to one another and the most important component for healthy relationships.

In recent times, communication has become an art. A growing field of experts, specialists and public speakers inform us how best to talk to others in any given situation, whether it be work, social functions or with significant others, etc. Being a good communicator can allow us to win people over to our cause, resolve a conflict, make someone feel better about themselves and much more. In fact, studies have shown good communication skills are linked with more success in relationships, work and life satisfaction in general. Unfortunately, we are not taught communication skills formally like others subjects we must complete in our education. So we learn most of what we know about communication from observing and modeling first our parents then others in the environment around us-real persons or media portrayals.Some of these, unfortunately could serve as negative or inappropriate models for communication and we could end up picking up the wrong skills that would damage relationships and prospects of success. Yet, even if you don’t think you have a natural ability to communicate well, you can still develop your communication skills by paying attention to and following simple strategies. It just takes some practice!

3 types of communication & the importance of body language

There are 3 types of communication: verbal, non-verbal and informal.Verbal communication is one way for people to communicate face-to-face through sound, words, speaking, and language.Non-verbal communication includes body language such as facial expressions, gestures, posture and eye gaze.Informal communication includes online chatting, texting, emails and letters.

One study at UCLA indicated that up to 93 % of communication effectiveness is determined by non-verbal cues (38 % by voice quality, 55 % body movements). This means that what we do with our body language has more significance to the message then what we actually say. If you are trying to mask your reaction to something or hide your feelings, pay close attention to the non-verbal signals you are portraying. Even the tiniest facial expression can give your true thoughts and feelings away. We usually believe what we see and not what we hear when there is a contradiction between what is being said verbally and what is being observed in one’s body language. You can become more proficient in reading and displaying body language by following some tips by Robert Phipps, author of “The Official Guide to Body Language”.

Tone of voice: is part of what is called paraverbal communication-referring to the messages we convey using our tone, pitch, stress on words and speed of talking. Experts say this accounts for 38% of what is verbally communicated to others. A statement can convey different meanings depending on which words are emphasized and the tone of voice used. Think of someone saying in a high pitched rapid voice that he/she is not angry or saying she/he is doing good using a slow monotone pitch; clearly a contradiction.

Tips for Understanding Non-verbal Communication

While actively listening to a person you nod your head to indicate that you understand and is in agreement with the speaker. You look away or yawn to indicate that you are bored or would prefer if the speaker stops talking. You frown or raise your eyebrows to indicate to the speaker that you either don’t believe them or that you don’t understand. There are ways we communicate with our bodies. When we are attentive to another’s body language, we can gain insight into how the person is feeling.

Eye Contact– Eye contact is one of the most important aspects of dealing with others. Maintaining good eye contact shows respect and interest in what speaker is saying. We tend to keep eye contact around 60-70% of the time, (however, there are wide cultural differences). By doing this you won’t make the other people feel self-conscious. Any more eye contact than this and you can be too intense, any less and you give off a signal that you lacking interest in them or the conversation.

Head– When you want to feel confident and self-assured keep your head level straight bothhorizontally and vertically. You can also use this straight head position when you want to be authoritative and what you’re saying to be taken seriously. Conversely, when you want to be friendly and in a listening, receptive mode, tilt your head just a little to one side or other. You can shift the tilt from left to right at different points in the conversation.

Arms-Arms give away the clues as to how open and receptive we are to everyone we meet and interact with, so keep your arms out to the side of your body or behind your back. This shows you are not scared to take on whatever comes your way. In general terms, the more outgoing you are as a person, the more you tend to use your arms with big movements. The quieter you are the less you move your arms away from your body. So, try to strike a natural balance and keep your arm movements midway. When you want to come across in the best possible light, crossing the arms is a no-no in front of others, because it can show defensiveness or inflexibility

Hand Gestures– Hand gestures are so numerous so this is just a very brief guide. Palms slightly up and outward is seen as open and friendly. Palm down gestures are generally seen as dominant and possibly aggressive, especially when there is no movement or bending between the wrist and the forearm. This palm up, palm down is very important when it comes to handshaking and, where appropriate, we suggest you always offer a handshake upright and vertical, which should convey equality.

Posture -A slumped posture indicates that you have low spirits, are fatigued or that you feel inferior. Whereas, an erect straightened posture shows high spirits and confidence. If you lean forward it implies that you are open and interested. Leaning away shows disinterest or that you are defensive. Maintaining a rigid posture is interpreted by many to mean that you are defensive, while a relaxed posture translates openness

Improving your skill in interpreting non-verbal communication will add to your ability to share meaning with and understand another person better. Again, the non-verbal communication may reveal more than the person’s spoken words. Learn to practice these non-verbal communication tips and you will surely improve your skills in relationships and at conversing with others!

Ms. Resha, is a counsellor at LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre. She is a Canadian Certified Counsellor and a member of the Canadian Counsellor and Psychotherapy Association. She is also licensed as a Social Counsellor from Community Development Authority in Dubai. Having worked in Canada, Kuwait and Dubai, she brings with her extensive multicultural experience in clinical and educational settings.

She has presented numerous psycho-educational workshops, led professional development sessions and has contributed to several media publications. Ms.Erheim conducts counselling in both English and Arabic with a diverse client population using an eclectic approach. She has interests in a range of issues including depression, self-esteem and self-identity, relationship issues and family conflict, assertiveness training, grief and stress management. She enjoys empowering her clients in making positive changes in their lives and reaching their full potential.

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