As you can probably guess, this is spoken communication. In a professional sense, your clearness of speech, calm and focused manner, as well as politeness, are all elements that make up strong verbal communication skills. The forms of verbal communication include face-to-face, public speaking, phone calls, and any media such as radio, television, and video.
It can be challenging to speak clearly, especially if we are speaking about a topic that we weren’t very familiar with or discussing a topic where our emotions run high. Have you ever been in an exchange with an angry customer or client? It may have been difficult for you to understand what the other person was trying to say, simply because their emotions were obscuring their meaning.
Some suggestions for improving your verbal communication skills are:
Use appropriate vocabulary and style: Each audience will require a different style of speaking and word choice. Think about how you would speak to a toddler who is reaching for a hot pan on the stove. You likely wouldn’t launch into a long explanation about the thermodynamic properties of stainless steel and the severity of burns. You’d likely shout something like, “No!” or “Stop!” Similarly, when you are in a professional setting, you likely wouldn’t be as casual in your word choice.
Avoid “word bloat” and unnatural phrasing: Both of these issues can happen when giving presentations or trying to sound more knowledgeable about a subject. For example, if you were asked a question in a work meeting, and you were asked to give your opinion on something, and you responded, “Indubitably! It is natural we would select this course of action. It is clearly the most logical and reasonable choice of all of the available options. Thus, we would be foolish to choose another, lesser option.”
Use vivid word choice: This is especially critical if you want your listeners to be engaged. The idea is to use rich description while using natural and appropriate language. Winston Churchill was one speaker who used vivid word choice in his speeches during World War II.
You might be wondering why nonverbal communication is even important, but it’s hard to have effective verbal skills if your nonverbal communication is broadcasting a different message. Nonverbal message can be intentional, but often, it is more involuntary. That is why it is essential to pay attention to the cues you are giving with your nonverbal language. Nonverbal language conveys meaning and can influence others. In fact, analyzing body language is a skill often used by FBI agents and other law enforcement officers.
Let’s review some forms of nonverbal communication:
Gestures: There are several types of gestures. Some are independent of culture, and others are dependent on culture. Examples of gestures that are independent of culture are self- or object-focused gestures. These would be things like twirling hair, fidgeting with your fingers or hands, or other objects (ex. a pen, a highlighter, paper). They could also be things like coughs or throat-clearing sounds. These types of gestures often are displayed when someone is speaking in front of an audience. It is a way for our bodies to channel extra or nervous energy.
Other gestures can have a culturally agreed-upon meaning. These would be things like the thumbs-up sign, the peace sign, or yes, even raising your middle finger when angry.
There are also gestures that typically don’t have meanings on their own but are necessary when providing context. For example, if you were showing how big a fish was that you caught on a fishing trip, that gesture is dependent upon the story.
Facial Expressions: These are often highly involuntary and can either be exaggerated or microexpressions. Microexpressions are the brief expressions that appear on an individual’s face and correlate to the emotions or thoughts being experienced. It’s difficult to make a micro expression. Read this article on The Definite Guide to Reading Microexpressions
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for more information.
Head Movements: These are things such as sympathetic nodding, head-tilting, or shaking your head. Interestingly, shaking your head side to side is an almost universal sign for “no.” The next time you are speaking with someone face-to-face, pay attention to how their head moves during the conversation. If they are agreeing or receptive to what you are saying, there will usually be a slight head-nod to indicate this.
Posture: This is how you hold and orient your body during a conversation. Your posture can have a direct impact on whomever you are speaking with and your audience. Some stances and movements are considered to be more aggressive than others, such as standing taller and squaring your shoulders. Slouching while sitting is often considered to convey disinterest or boredom in the conversation.
Eye Contact: Eye contact is another essential element of nonverbal communication. Please note, appropriate eye contact can largely be dependent on culture. In the United States, direct eye contact, especially in professional settings, is considered appropriate and respectful. It is believed to show honesty. This can also be seen in other cultures, such as Germany and France. However, in many Asian and South American countries, direct eye contact is considered to be challenging and hostile (Checchini, 2018). Being aware of the diversity in your workplace, especially if you have colleagues or clients from other countries, is essential to strong work-place communication.
Haptics: Haptics refers to touch and can be used both positively and negatively. Think about how a shoulder touch could be reassuring from a loved one, but off-putting from a stranger. Haptics can also have cultural connotations. For instance, a weak handshake typically is looked down upon in business settings in the United States. In general, in professional settings, touch is typically limited to handshakes, a brief touch on the arm or shoulder. Of course, that is also dependent upon your relationship with the individual.
Proxemics: This refers to the distance we stand from other people. Have you ever said or thought, “Whoa, there! This person is in my personal bubble.” If so, this was you recognizing the proxemic distance between you and another person wasn’t at an acceptable level. Edward T. Hall was an anthropologist who developed the idea of proxemics in his 1966 work The Hidden Dimension. From his observations, which has been verified by later researchers, is broken down into the following spaces:
Intimate distance: Between 0” -1.5 feet. This is reserved for family, closet friends, and intimate relationships.
Personal Space: Between 1.5 – 4 feet. This would be for friends and close acquaintances.
Social Space: Between 4 – 12 feet. This is the space most often used in professional settings and in many social settings. For instance, the distance you stand behind someone in a queue at the grocery store would fall in social space. Classrooms are often in the social space, as well.
Public Space: 12 feet or more. This is typically for public speaking and public events. If you were to attend a political rally, the speakers would often be 12 or more feet away from the general audience. This is both for practical (greater ability for attendees to see) and safety reasons.
Resources and References
Checchini, L. (2018). Eye contact in different cultures. Retrieved from https://www.lynda.com/Business-tutorials/Eye-contact-different-cultures/756276/5015968-4.html
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Hall, E. T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension (Vol. 609). Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Cherry, K. (2019). Types of nonverbal communication. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/types-of-nonverbal-communication-2795397
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Science of People. (n.d.). The Definitive Guide to Reading Microexpressions. Retrieved from https://www.scienceofpeople.com/microexpressions/
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Discuss the common misconceptions that can occur with each of the five forms of non-verbal communication and how to use these skills in a work environment. Which of the non-verbal cues do you think would have the most common misconception, and why and how could you correct with verbal reinforcement?
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