Communicating as a Leader

Non Verbal Communication

Terry Doherty asked:

Humans are very intricate and subtle; in fact most of our communication is performed by non-verbal means. Eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, posture, body positioning, and spatial proximity all play important roles in effective communication. Non-verbal communication varies by age, culture, and even socio-economic group but some universal truths are clear and can provide guidelines for better communication. Studies have revealed some fascinating facts of human communication.

Eye contact is a common form of non-verbal communication. In our evolutionary history, eye contact has been important in mating and survival. Kim Dalton at the University of Washington-Madison in 2005 measured eye movements of persons with Autism. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to discern brain activity. In summary, the study found that eye contact triggers activity in the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for complex emotional responses. In those with autism, this section of the brain triggers a fear response in relation to eye contact where as in others the emotional response might be pleasure, interest, etc.. In persons with autism, this section is over stimulated and the result is an almost complete avoidance of eye contact.

In “’Calm Down!’: the role of gaze in the interactional management of hysteria by the police,” a study by Mardi Kidwell at the University of New Hampshire, it was shown that when dealing with people who are hysterical it is important to acquire and maintain eye contact to calm the person down. It also resulted in greater compliance, less physical trauma, and more positive verbal communication.

Eye Contact Tips

? If you look away from someone when meeting it communicates disrespect or contempt. Always make eye contact when you are introduced to someone.

? People in groups often participate based on the amount of eye contact that is given. If you want to draw someone into the discussion, increase the amount of eye contact slowly until they respond.

? In nature staring generally means one of two things. Either you want to fight or you want to mate. Humans have the same response. Staring will be interpreted as aggressive, unless there is a mutual attraction or fondness.

? People often think that when people are lying they look away. It is true that people tend to avert the eyes or even cover their mouth when lying. However, people who lie also go to the other extreme and hold a gaze longer than those who are being truthful.

Before we learn to verbally, much of our information about people is received through facial expressions. McGill University and the University of British Columbia have concluded a study of four-month-old infants and found that they can differentiate visually between two languages, without hearing the language by interpreting facial expressions. This study shows that we receive detailed information through facial expressions at a very early age.

Numerous studies have also shown that emotional state is important in the interpretations of facial expressions. Dr. Joan Luby, assistant professor of child psychiatry at Washington University, completed a study showing that young children who have symptoms of depression interpret more facial expressions than the control group. They interpreted more internal feelings such as shame than other children but they were not biased to negative emotions. They recognized positive facial expressions as readily as their peers.

Adults with anxiety also have problems interpreting facial expressions. A recent study at the University of Illinois showed that adults with anxiety often misinterpreted facial expressions and were more likely to interpret facial expressions as negative. So the next time someone reacts negatively to you during a conversation, check your facial expression. You may be able to communicate more by smiling than you can verbally

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