Want to be heard? Speak with your body

I have been talking about the importance of nonverbal communication in relationships for a long time. Now there is more proof of how important this is if you want to hear and be heard correctly.

In a study that was recently published in Frontiers in Psychology; robot avatars who were programmed to talk with their hands were as easy to understand as humans delivering the same messages. Researchers Paul Bremner and Ulte Leonards combined classic hand gestures with speech (multi-modal) to see how well the robots could be understood. Then they compared the robot’s communication with that voiced by human subjects to see if there was any significant difference between the two, and found that there was not.

First the actors were recorded as they gestured and spoke their lines. Then the avatars used these recordings and mimicked the exact gestures and a comparison was made. Even though avatars don’t have the same exact shape or flexibility in their hands and arms, their gestures were still as effective.

What these researchers found is that when movement is combined with voice, communication is more effective, even if the speaker is a robot. Think about how this translates to dating and relationship communication. By learning to use gestures, pauses, eye and facial movements, and body posture to convey our messages; we can greatly increase our chances of being heard and delivering the intended message.

For anyone who struggles with feeling misunderstood, who has difficulty connecting with others, and/or who experiences a lot of frustration during first meetings and too often leaves the wrong impression—try turning your attention to everything you don’t say with words, but say with your body. This is what others are paying attention to—whether they or you are aware of it or not.

The universal “not face” expression

If you have little experience with using body language to enhance your communications, here is a new study that reinforces its importance. Researchers at Ohio State University have identified a universal facial expression that expresses negative emotion. It is used in an identical way by speakers of English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and American Sign Language (ASL)—this last one being even more significant. The “Not Face” consists of a furrowed brow, pressed lips, and raised chin—and in the study it always accompanied negative verbalizations by its wearer.

The not face is expressed as though by instinct, and at the same frequency as the negative words that accompany it. For ASL speakers, the not face may be used even when the word not is left out—in other words, it conveys the meaning without the word.

The study suggests a link between language and facial expressions. So if you think the emphasis on nonverbal communication is just a silly fad, think again. The researchers suggest that it is a combination of three basic universal expressions that indicate anger, disgust, and contempt. The study also hypothesizes that the ability to communicate danger or aggression was important to survival long before language was developed. This helps to explain why the expression is a negative one.

The study was developed as part of ongoing research into the development of language, but can offer us useful information about how we use our body to express ourselves and that it is likely it was the only mode of expression long ago. Therefore it’s basically coded in our DNA, and exists mostly on an unconscious level. But think of what a powerful tool it can be when you use it consciously and consistently in your relationships with others.

Celebrity Body Language

As a body language expert for TMZ’s Too Fab.com and Star magazine, I am asked to “read” the body language of celebrity couples and give a voice to their body signals. I love doing it, and am always reminded how important our nonverbal communication is for all of us in how we present ourselves to the world and especially in dating and relating to others.

Think about it, celebrities are constantly in the public eye. They are followed by photographers wherever they go who are looking to shoot those private moments they share with their significant others and families. They are very AWARE of the fact that they are being watched and recorded- yet, pictures are often snapped that reveal a private side that they do not want to share with others, understandable so.

Now compare their awareness with our almost unconscious body talk. We go through life feeling peripheral or invisible to the strangers around us. Yes, we are on our “best behavior’ during interviews, singles events where we meet and greet new (hopeful) possibilities and with anyone we want to think well of us. But consider all those MANY moments when you are unaware and a really attractive and interesting stranger is looking your way. Will they take a second look? Will what they see lead them to a desire to know more? Or will that brief first impression send them on their way, barely noticing or forgetting you an instant later?

Your nonverbal communication matters. Even though we really can’t read the whole story from a snap shot, and any true information will only come from reading behaviors in clusters and in context- first impressions are often made in an instant. Raise your awareness- that interesting stranger may come along in just a few moments.