Lexi Louis – Opinion Columnist
I think that understanding how to perceive others’ nonverbal communication is imperative. What we wear, our stance, our facial expressions, and our movements are the initial impression we give to others. I believe the quote by Abraham Lincoln, who stated that, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Although the content of our verbal communication is important, most of the meaningful communication we do is nonverbal. Albert Mehrabian, a researcher of body language, concluded that communication consists of, “55 percent nonverbal, 38 percent vocal, and 7 percent words.” I think that this is mostly true, but it can fluctuate depending on the situation.
When I am sitting at a desk, I remind myself to sit up straight and lean in. I may be listening intently to the lecture when I am leaning back, but it sends a contradictory message. When I decide what to wear, I pick clothes that will be appropriate. If I attend an interview, I don’t want to wear pajamas. This may send the message that I don’t care. I don’t want to be looking at or checking my phone when I am being interviewed either. A quote by Mark Harvey is, “Kids used to sit back and listen to lectures. Now they’re leaning in. Body language has changed.”
Maintaining eye contact in our culture can show integrity, interest, and it can show we are listening. Our pupils dilate when we see something we like, and they constrict when we see something we don’t like. They let more light in when they are dilated, and let less light in when they are constricted. In other countries like Japan, it can show disrespect and aggression. I don’t think eye contact is the only thing that shows honesty. There are many other factors that may contribute to how someone uses eye contact, so it can be misleading.
To notice when someone may be experiencing negative feelings is a helpful trait. Some self-pacifying behaviors I notice in public are when people touch their face, adjust their clothing, or rub their hands on their legs. These behaviors can tell me someone may be uncomfortable or nervous. When someone squints or closes their eyes, they may not like what they are seeing. When this is accompanied by a nose scrunch and scowl, they may be disgusted or not like what they are hearing.
To notice when someone may be experiencing positive feelings is helpful too. Some gravity-defying behaviors I notice in public are when someone’s toes, hands or thumbs are pointed upward. When someone’s feet are bouncing up and down when they are sitting, they are very happy. With a mask on, it can be trickier to completely read facial expressions. A genuine smile involves eyes and eyelids turned upward and sometimes raised eyebrows.
The book by Joe Navarro, What Every Body is Saying, explains how our face, our torso, or our arms aren’t the best indicator of what we are thinking or feeling. The best indicator is our feet. I would have initially thought it would have been the eyes, but it makes sense. We are more actively aware of our facial expressions than our feet.
Some things I notice in public are if people have their feet at an angle, if people have their feet crossed, and where their feet are pointing. When people have their feet crossed, it means they are comfortable where they are. If someone has their feet at an angle pointed at the exit, it is a good sign they are ready to leave. I was at the café and noticed two people and one with their feet crossed. An assumption I made was that this person was comfortable with the other person and knew them very well.
Our limbic brain controls our freeze, fight, flight response. This is a natural human instinct, and it sometimes isn’t useful in modern times. Our ancestors used it to react to predators. When our feet are angled, we are ready to leave. When they are crossed, our balance is put off so we are comfortable where we are. Where our feet are pointing and the proximity of them to others’ are meaningful too. People who like each other may have their feet closer and pointed towards one another.
These are just some of the messages we are sending through our body language. How we present ourselves, our tone, our pitch, our body language, our facial expressions, and our eye contact all make up nonverbal communication. It consists of most of our communication, and it is important to understand correctly. I think nonverbal communication is more important than verbal communication. We may have the right words to say, but how we say them matters even more.