Your nonverbal communication talks before you do. Only seven percent of interpersonal communication is transmitted verbally—the remaining ninety-three percent speaks for itself.
And, because nonverbal communication is learned and practiced on an unconscious level, you won’t be aware that you silently scream, “Please don’t talk to me!”
When you enter a room full of employees, clients or friends, each of them intuitively asks one crucial question: are you approachable? If the answer is yes, the conversations in which you engage will be initiated with ease and comfort. You make new friends. You create new contacts. And you will not have to suffer through another meeting clamped to the snack table. However, if the answer is no, there won’t be any conversations! As a result, you miss opportunities to create connections and meet valuable people.
It is vital to understand some of the non-receptive behaviors that hinder your approachability. If you avoid the following six barriers to communication, you will become more accessible to the people around you. As a result, you will welcome better business and social opportunities to transform strangers into valuable connections.
To start a conversation with a person whose eyes are fixated on the ground is about as easy as hurdling over that person! This is why numbered lights always reside at the highest part of the elevator door—so you don’t have to talk to the person next to you! You gaze at the beautiful yellow numbers ascending to the penthouse while your conversation plummets to the basement!
Your eye contact is the single most effective indicator that conversation is desirable. When you avoid it, you will be perceived as anxious, uninterested and bored with the conversation and the company.
When your eyes are focused up, down, away, at your watch, at your notes or simply off into space, nobody is going to talk to you. It’s as simple as that. Remember, eyes always talk. And they always provide valuable cues for approachability.
Lack of Smiling
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why isn’t anyone talking to me?” odds are it’s because you didn’t smile. Of the ninety-three percent of communication that is expressed nonverbally, fifty-five percent is through your facial expressions.
When you don’t smile, you look unresponsive and unreceptive to the people around you. You look unfriendly. You look like you don’t want to be wherever you are!
Before you say hello, before you shake hands, and before you even decide to talk to someone, smile. Smile all the time. Smile until your face hurts! Then smile some more. Remember, a smile is your messenger of goodwill. A smile is your free invitation to anyone who wants to have a conversation with you. And a smile, above all, is the most contagious thing in the world.
Hand and Arm Placement
As the old saying goes, “You cannot say nothing. ” Nonverbal communication expresses emotion, conveys attitude and communicates your personal traits more than any language in the world! A common vehicle for this expression is through hand and arm placement.
Don’t place your hands over your face, mouth or anywhere close to your head. If you bite your nails, play with your hair or tap your fingers against your mouth, forget about it! People assume you’re engrossed in deep thought and unavailable for conversation.
Also beware of the most common, most physical nonverbal barrier: crossing your arms. Even if you’re cold, don’t do it. People won’t want to “bother” you. They will form the impression that you are defensive, nervous, judgmental, close minded or skeptical. Honestly, do you want to approach someone like that?
Body language is the oldest language. For example, have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who sat down while you were stood up? It’s not easy! If you close your shoulders, turn down your wrists and palms or lean away from someone, you position yourself in a “rejection pose. ” This type of closed body language emits an aura of disinterest. If you are not physically open to the people around you, they will physically close the conversational door on your face!
Be certain to keep your posture commensurate with the people around you. This makes everyone feel equal. No one will be intimidated. And no one will be excluded-especially you!
Silence is a negative influence in the communication process. It creates tension and uneasiness. It makes you look shy, which isn’t necessarily true; but your silence will also be perceived by others as an indicator of disinterest or disagreement.
In regards to silence, one of the caveats to start conversations is something called diffusion of involvement. In other words, everybody thinks someone else will be the first to say hello, and then nobody says hello. And then, silence. Therefore, the longer you wait to interject, ask a question, say hello or break the ice, the more uncomfortable and unproductive the situation will become.
Why do people read the paper, listen to headphones or talk on their cell phones in at work or in public? To catch up on the news, relax and stay in contact with each other is to be human. But these involvement shields significantly decrease your approachability and result in missed opportunities to create connections.
When you use something to protect yourself from involvement with people, knowingly or not, you put up a nonverbal barrier. These barriers tell others two things: 1) you’re busy, and 2) to start a conversation with you will be an exercise in futility.
Next time you attend a meeting or event, be careful not to spend your “socializing time” clamped to the snack table. Or the brochure table. Or the bar. These are safe havens for the reticent. And by “safe, ” I mean silent.
The only thing that stands in your way of transforming people into mutually valuable connections is you. With proper hand, arm and body position, you appear open and ready to talk. With proper eye contact and a contagious smile, you come off as friendly and polite. And, with a continual desire to break the silence without shielding yourself from interaction, others will be happy to step onto your front porch!
Some people will enter into your life and change it forever. Your newest client, best friend, most valuable colleague or even the strangest of strangers awaits the opportunity to interact with, offer help to, or learn from you. Every meeting, event, room, restaurant or public place in which you socialize offers these people to you for the low price of one attribute: your approachability.
© 2005 All Rights Reserved.
Scott Ginsberg is a professional speaker, “The World's Foremost Expert on Nametags" and the author of HELLO my name is Scott and The Power of Approachability. He helps people MAXIMIZE their approachability and become UNFORGETTABLE communicators - one conversation at a time. For more information contact Front Porch Productions at http://www.hellomynameisscott.com .