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Nonverbal Impact
Monday, June 28, 2004
Sahib Spiderman. Maish points to this example of extreme localization. To the right is Indian Spiderman..

I was never a Spiderman fan. Superman and Batman were in vogue when I read comic books. Recently, Spidey has been popping up on my radar. Only yesterday, Boing-Boing pointed to Spiderman satire. [Refresh the page when you get there for a rotation of 20 strips.]

I'm losing my hearing. It's not like someone turned down the volume knob on my ears. No, it's more like the sliders on my mental audio mixer are set to drop out a few frequencies. A sound in an otherwise quiet room is crystal clear but a voice in a crowded room fades into the generalized noise. This got me to thinking about nonverbal communication and the oft-quoted finding that most of what's communicated in conversation does come through our ears.

Professor Albert Mehrabian has pioneered the understanding of communications since the 1960's. Aside from his many and various other fascinating works, Mehrabian established this classic statistic for the effectiveness of spoken communications:

* 7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken.
* 38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
* 55% of meaning is in facial expression.

"Mehrabian's research involved spoken communications. Transferring the model indiscriminately to written or telephone communications is not reliable, except to say that without the opportunity for visual signs, there is likely to be even more potential for confused understanding and inferred meanings." Mehrabian's site is worth a look, too.

Thinking back on the findings that people tend to treat computers as if they were people, I began to wonder if an avatar can communicate nonverbally.

Spiderman is clearly a poor choice because he rarely changes expression; I'm not even sure he has lips.

Better pick some more expressive figures. Have them all say the same thing and see if the impact of the message differs....

Are the messages equally compelling? Believable?

Does the "speaker" influence your evaluation of the content? Do you feel one communicates better than the other?

Leave a comment if you think there's anything to this.

Top 10 Tips for Nonverbal Communication

Excellent communication skills are the key to success in your personal and professional life. Research shows that nonverbal communication is actually more important than verbal communication. Here are the top 10 tips for using nonverbal communication to improve your relationships.

1. 'Dance' with the nonverbal signals being sent your way on a moment-to-moment basis.

Stop and ask the other person what their nonverbal behavior means if you are uncertain about it. It is more effective to be 'in the moment,' tuning in to your audience, than to drone on with what you were trying to say.

2. Use the tonality of your voice the way that a musician uses an instrument.

When you are expressing love you can speak in soft, lilting tones. When someone is crying you can speak with a 'crying' sound in your voice. When you are setting limits on a toddler's behavior you can use a tone of authority and firmness.

3. Soak in the hugs that others give to you.

Many people have difficulty being 'present' in the moment to truly receive the affection that comes with a hug. You probably need to be hugged more than you are being hugged, so why resist?

4. Express gratitude to your audience when they are being attentive and responsive.

The encouragement could increase the level of attentiveness and responsiveness, making it a more enjoyable experience for you and for them.

5. Use good eye contact.

Many people stop using eye contact when they are speaking about their successes due to fear or embarrassment. Others stop using eye contact when they are talking about painful things.

6. Stop what you were doing when your listeners look glassy-eyed or bored.

Take ownership and responsibility for the situation by saying, "I must be 'off' tonight because I'm not getting that 'you're interesting' look." Change something drastically about what you were doing.

7. Tune in to the 'metacommunication' that is going on at a given moment.

Metacommunication involves noticing the larger context of communication. It can be helpful to tune in to the larger context when there is a sense of being provoked by what a speaker is saying. For example, you might ask yourself, "Why is my teenager telling me that he is going to pierce his tongue? Is he telling me to test me or to take a risk of being open with me?"

8. When you are confronting someone who you are in a close relationship with, reach out to take their hand in both of yours.

This kind of gesture will communicate that you want the difficult words that you are sharing to increase your intimacy rather than to put a wedge in it. A caring gesture during a confrontation can assist the other person in hearing you instead of defending themselves.

9. Notice the effect that your words have on others.

Do they cause life or dampen life? With practice, your 'radar' will improve and you will immediately know the effect that you are having on others.

10. Hug others as if you were St. Peter greeting newcomers at the Pearly Gates.

Leo Buscaglia was on to something. Dr. Buscaglia, the famous educator known as Dr. Hug, made it part of his lectures to hug any members of the audience who would line up for the embrace.


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