Whether you realize it or not, you say a lot without even speaking a word. People often understand your intent and have a reaction to you before you speak, and certainly before you manage to get all of your words out. Your feelings about a person or situation are rooted on a nonverbal level, and relationships are based in these connections. Your words simply fill in the details.
So, if you want to communicate more effectively, pay close attention to these four basic ways that you express yourself.
Tone of your voice: The way that you say something can make all the difference. For instance you might say, “thanks” when your friend corrects you in conversation. If you say it in an upbeat sound in your voice, it tells your friend that you are appreciative. However, if you say it with a sarcastic edge to your voice, then it tells your friend something very different.
Volume of your voice: Speaking in a soft voice can be soothing or comforting. By contrast, yelling or speaking in a loud voice can be threatening or instill fear. So, when you are angry, someone is more likely to really listen to what you have to say when you speak at a conversational volume than yelling. Similarly, when someone is afraid, you are more likely to help calm them by talking softly.
Posture: The way you hold your body can say something about you as a person, as well as about your current feelings and attitude. Generally speaking, your posture communicates your sense of yourself, such as standing tall as a confident person or slouching as a depressed person. But it can also be a communication about a relationship or interaction. For instance, leaning toward someone as they speak shows interest. People also tend to unconsciously imitate the behaviors of others when they feel in sync with them; such as crossing their legs when in a conversation with someone who crosses their legs. Turning toward someone, but at an angle, shows interest and engagement. By contrast, looking at someone squarely in the eyes often communicates you are being confrontational, and turning away shows disinterest. While all of these behaviors tend to happen unconsciously, you can also choose to consciously adjust your posture to communicate the message of your choice.
Facial expressions: People instinctively read the facial expressions of others. Dr. Paul Ekman is renowned for his work showing that there are universal expressions that can be identified across cultures, such as anger, sadness, disgust, and happiness. Although you can study research in this area to hone your skills, you simply need to imagine experiencing a feeling and then pay attention to the facial expression that you naturally make. Again, while your facial expressions will happen unconsciously, you can choose to communicate certain feelings by consciously changing your expressions. For instance, you can show approval with a smile and shake of your head or disapproval by rolling your eyes.
So, when you want to communicate clearly, do more than choose your words carefully. Pay attention to how you speak and to the nonverbal messages that your body is sending.