Q: How do non-verbal communication skills affect conflict resolution?
A: Often, we think about communication in terms of words alone; however, a large part of communication is non-verbal. In what ways do we communicate without words?
Consider the case of Leah, a nineteen-year-old seminary student. Leah is smart and articulate, but recently as she has started going on shidduchim, she has not had much success keeping the conversation stress-free and comfortable. Even though Leah is a good conversationalist and smiles constantly, she radiates tension. Her shoulders and eyebrows are noticeably raised, her voice is shrill and her body is stiff. Being around Leah makes many people feel uncomfortable. Leah has a lot going for her, but that is all marred by the discomfort she evokes in others.
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 confidence 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 across all languages and people. 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. Therefore, if a person has trouble both exhibiting non-verbal communication and understanding the non-verbal signals of others, they are 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.