The Dance of Non-Verbal Communication

I have been taking a couple’s dance class recently, which has been making me think about the importance of non-verbal communication.  It is absolutely imperative in social dancing.  The man has to clearly communicate what he wants the woman to do, and she needs to be able to interpret things correctly in order to follow his non-verbal directions.  That is such a perfect metaphor for any kind of relationship because both communicating and interpreting are very important.

Some people give off very few non-verbal cues as to what they are thinking or feeling. That makes them hard to read and can lead to confusion, playing guessing games, or even tip-toeing around issues because the other person may not know how that person will react.  That’s been my experience, anyway.  On the other hand, I have experience with people who give off almost too much non-verbal communication.  The eye-rolling, smirks, lack of eye contact, and so many other things tell me exactly what they are thinking and feeling.  I don’t ever feel like they are really listening to me because they start reacting negatively as soon as I start talking, and often what I am saying isn’t anything they need to react negatively about at all.

I think part of the problem there is that not only are they not really listening to the words I am saying, but they are also significantly misinterpreting any non-verbal communication I may or may not be giving off.  They are often quick to read the negative interpretations when there are none and tend to find the most negative possible way to interpret things.  I get, “I was sensing frustration in your voice” when I wasn’t the least bit frustrated, for example.  Or they think there is some hidden meaning to everything I say that is usually negative, perhaps assuming I am criticizing them when I am not.  They are not good at interpreting verbal or non-verbal communication.   I try to be extra cautious about what and how I am saying things, but it still doesn’t help.  The exaggerated non-verbal communication and poor interpretation of it has led to quite a few disagreements.

Sometimes a person’s body language doesn’t line up with what they are saying, which can lead to mixed messages and confusion.  That can make a person hard to read as well.  So it’s important to be conscious of the non-verbal cues you are giving off, whether they align with what you are saying, and also be aware of how much you are relying on other people’s body language to interpret what they are trying to convey and how good you are at doing so.  If two people are not able to read each other’s signals, it’s not going to be a very pretty dance, and chances are someone’s toes are going to be stepped on frequently.

My favorite kind of non-verbal communication is when two people can just look at each other and know what the other is thinking or feeling, or they can just be together without having to say anything at all.  If you have that kind of connection with someone, be grateful.

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