Listening with Your Eyes

11 Mar

Have you ever asked someone “How are you?” and they reply “Great … thanks.”   But you know there’s a whole bunch that isn’t being shared?

An amazing two thirds of communication is never spoken. That’s why this week’s blog topic is the wealth of information that can be learned from nonverbal messages – things like body posture and movement, eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, rate of speaking, spacial relationships and many more.

Nonverbal communication cues can play five roles:

  • Repetition: they can repeat the message the person is speaking.
  • Contradiction: they can contradict a message someone is trying to get across.
  • Substitution: they can substitute for a verbal message. For example, a person’s eyes can convey sadness that the words do not.
  • Complementing: they may add to a verbal message. A boss who pats a person on the back, in addition to giving praise, can increase the impact of the message.
  • Accenting: they may underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, as an example, can emphasize a message.

Source: The Importance of Effective Communication, Edward G. Wertheim, Ph.D.

Listen-to-MeNonverbal messages are so important because they are more believable than spoken ones. The person you are listening to can’t control all of the signals that he or she is constantly giving off (and neither can you).

So, look for inconsistencies – are the words saying one thing and the nonverbal communication something else?

Don’t rely too much on one nonverbal cue in isolation. Look for them in groups (for example, eye contact and tone of voice). Are they working together?

Being observant can significantly add to the information you are listening to with your ears. And take care with communication like e-mail or texting – when nonverbal cues aren’t available … with small exceptions like 🙂


P.S.  And don’t forget … cultural differences in non-verbal cues can dramatically impact the opportunities for miscommunication – a whole other subject.


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