Q: My daughter Leah is a nineteen-year-old seminary student. She is smart and articulate and has recently started shidduchim. The issue is that she has not had much success keeping the conversation stress-free and comfortable.
I have watched her when she meets new people and I have noticed that even though Leah is a good conversationalist and smiles constantly, she radiates tension. Her shoulders and eyebrows are noticeably raised, her voice shrill, and her body stiff. It seems like being around Leah makes many people uncomfortable. She has so much going for her, but all that is marred by the discomfort she evokes in others.
Right now, I am at a loss. How can I help Leah be more comfortable and set those around her at ease? Otherwise, I’m worried that she will miss out on meeting her bashert!
A: Often, we think about communication in terms of words alone; however, a large part of communication is non-verbal. In what ways to we communicate without words?
In order for Leah to set people more at ease, she has to be more comfortable herself. Here are some ways to demonstrate positive non-verbal communication:
Eye contact. Maintaining eye contact is important; however, overdoing it can be disconcerting. Use eye contact to let the person know that you are listening to them with attention.
Body movements and posture. The straighter you carry yourself, the more confident you seem. This inspires confidence in others as well. In addition, closed-off body language such as crossed arms signals to others that you are not interested in interacting with them.
Voice. We communicate with our voices, even when we are not using words. Non-verbal speech sounds such as tone, pitch, volume, inflection, rhythm, and rate are important communication elements. When we speak, other people “read” our voices in addition to listening to our words.
Facial expressions. Unlike some forms of non-verbal communication, facial expressions are universal. Relaxing your muscles into a smile will not only relax the people around you, but will subconsciously tell your mind that you are happy as well.
Non-verbal communication such as proper eye contact and tone of voice often are extremely important in creating life-long relationships and friendships because they are an integral part of conflict resolution. Thus, if a person has trouble exhibiting non-verbal communication and understanding the non-verbal signals of others, he or she is more likely to have trouble making and maintaining long-term relationships.
For many of us, non-verbal communication is something we pick up on from a young age and continue to develop as we grow. For others like Leah, and people who suffer from learning disabilities, distinguishing the non-verbal cues of others is quite difficult. For this reason, Dr. Jeanne Segal explains in her book The Language of Emotional Intelligence that it is very important to use perfect non-verbal skills in order to ease conflict and stress.
Here are some tips:
Remain relaxed and focused in tense and intense situations. If you don’t know how to stay centered and in control of yourself, you may become emotionally overwhelmed in challenging situations. Therefore, like Leah, you might give off the wrong impression.
Read nonverbal cues. Evaluate the person you are speaking to in terms of eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, intensity, timing, and pace. Modify your own behavior in accordance with how you want them to react.
Be playful in tense situations. You can avoid many confrontations and resolve differences by using humor and a playful attitude. Smiling and laughing signal to those around you that you are interested in harmony rather than discord.
Remember, you can learn from the words and silences of those around you. Paying attention to both will help you be a better friend, spouse, and parent. Helping Leah develop those essential nonverbal communication skills will ultimately help her find her bashert, but will also help her in all facets of her social interaction in the future.