Recently I have been writing about how we can listen better to what others are saying with the intention of improving our communication. Effective listening incorporates taking note of the pitch, rate and timbre of the voice as well as facial expressions, non-verbal postures or actions.
” Watch out for the man whose belly doesn’t move when he laughs.”Chinese proverb
Only a fraction of our understanding comes directly from words, some say a mere 35 %. Early humans were for some time, without a spoken or written language so non-verbal language was paramount in communicating with one another.
Whilst content is important, detecting the emotions or feelings of what is said is also central to understanding others better. In the book People Skills, Robert Bolton writes that people’s feelings regarding relationships and how each person might, or might not, be coping internally, is communicated primarily via their non-verbal signals.
“Self-betrayal oozes from our pores.”Sigmund Freud
In social interactions, our true inner feelings are sometimes repressed and concealed via the words we choose to say, but they invariably leak out through our non-verbal expressions. Good listeners pay attention to non-verbal language, postures, gestures and actions. Picking up on these covert signals tells us what is the most important to the other person.
Have you noticed that we communicate our emotions, sometimes without conscious awareness, by:
- shrugging our shoulders in indifference
- knitting our eyebrows in disapproval
- moving or tensing our jaw in disgust or disagreement
- tensing our muscles in nervousness
- clenching fists in irritation
- averting eye contact in embarrassment or denial
- touching or smiling in endearment or affection
- lingering looks of happiness or contemplation
The tone of a voice is another signal. Think about someone using a monotonous voice without inflection and how that might indicate boredom, fatigue, or perhaps negativity and depression.
Conversely, a high pitched animated voice might indicate enthusiasm and louder tones anger and drawn out speech: disbelief. You can pick up a lot of information by listening to the voice. Many times we do this naturally without thinking about it, but do we use that information to communicate better?
Reflecting back your interpretation of the other person’s emotional state can assist in checking in or clarifying how the other person is really feeling. The person can then respond, if they disclose more information to you. This may facilitate a more open discussion and brings a feeling of closeness and understanding. You probably do this already naturally with family and friends.
Here are a few examples of reflective questioning:
I sense you didn’t like/don’t agree with what was just said? Have I ‘read’ that right?
You sound like you’re feeling really down? Are you doing okay?
You appear really happy/excited/rushed today? What’s going on for you?
Taking note of facial expressions, vocal cues and non verbal language helps us to listen to others better by understanding their inner emotional state. Clarifying this may lessen confusions and misunderstanding, which will lead to more effective communication as the listener will feel they are understood.