Interpersonal Communication Dynamics

A woman and a man talking in an office.
••• Jetta Productions/Blend Images/Getty Images

Each of us is a radar machine constantly scoping out our environment. Human beings are sensitive to body language, facial expression, posture, movement, the tone of voice, and more. In addition to comprehending the words spoken, people instinctively watch and listen to all the nonverbal cues that are part of communication.

The Importance of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication is about body language in person. If you know someone well, you can practically hear their voice as you read their emails. But when communicating with someone you don't know well, it's very easy to misunderstand their tone. Sarcasm can come across as a direct statement and a misunderstanding can occur. While most people would catch spoken sarcasm, it can be difficult to ascertain in the written word.

To effectively communicate, your nonverbal cues must match your words. Words are only the first piece of the puzzle for people who are scoping out the meaning of a communication. We know this instinctively.

When an employee says, “That's just great!” with a huge smile on her face and a rising tone, you know that she is happy with the result. On the other hand, when an employee says, “That's just great” in a flat or downward tone, with a grimace on her face, you know that the situation is anything but great.

When you are unable to hear the vocal tone or see expressions or body language, you run the risk of missing much of what the person is trying to communicate.

Your Opportunities as a Communicator

If you communicate without paying attention to all of the nonverbal cues your listener sees hears, you fail to use powerful aspects of communication. Think about the last time you saw a professional public speaker.

She did not just read from powerpoint slides and probably seemed to command the whole stage. If you read the text of her talk after hearing her, you may have been puzzled as to why it was so fantastic. It's all about the style of presentation.

If you want to improve your own presentation and communication skills, try watching a few of the most popular Ted Talks and see how the speakers hold themselves on stage, use hand gestures, and convey emotions through facial expressions that go along with their subject matters.

Your body language, facial expression, posture, movement, and tone of voice can help you emphasize the truth, sincerity, and reliability of your words. People often think they can tell if you are lying or telling the truth based on how you speak, not just about what you say.

Your body language can also undermine your communication if the words you use are not congruent with the message you send via your nonverbal communication cues. If you are pretending to be happy (or sad) about something, your body language can betray you.

The Key to Effective Communication

Communication is sharing information between two or more individuals. Effective communication requires all components of a communication interworking perfectly for shared meaning.

If your job is to manage people and people often misunderstand what you are saying, it could be that your body language isn't matching your words, leaving people confused. Ask your HR department for assistance in finding training or coaching that will teach you to match your body language to your words.

You may think that your job doesn't involve communication, but you are wrong. Let's say you write computer code all day long. While you're not speaking to people, you are writing things that help others communicate ideas or data.