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Non-verbal and Subtle Communication

written by: Kosjenka Muk

The more we work on noticing details of our communications with others, the more we start to notice how much we usually miss. There are so many messages the person we talk to will send through very small nonverbal signals, the tone of their voice or their choice of words. Especially when other people may not choose to express themselves directly, or they are not aware of what they communicate, a great improvement in the relationship can be achieved if such messages are recognised. Often these are not details that would significantly decrease the quality of communication, which is one of the reasons we do not recognise them - the other reason is that we do not have the experience of how great improvement in relationships can be achieved through increased awareness.

In many situations we do not pay enough attention to the meaning of what is communicated, and hence we end up not answering the right question at the right time. Everyone has experienced different resolved and unresolved arguments, or being told the thoughts of other people belatedly or indirectly. Sometimes important things can be explained and arguments avoided if we could recognise the problem, or correctly translate what the other person is saying, or find true words in which we could explain our position; but as in the case of many other truly important aspects of life we rarely take time to really pay attention to detail.

Many people, when they are not sure what to say, attempt to answer too quickly. They respond with half-considered thoughts, clichés, empty witticisms, provocations, or simply withdraw to avoid conflict. It is completely different when in such situations we listen to our bodies and feel their messages. By listening to the feelings of your body and translating it to words you can recognise problems and seek healthy reactions more easily. This skill of inner awareness requires practice, given that in the midst of communication our focus is mostly external, which makes it more difficult to recognize subtle psychosomatic signals.

What is true spontaneity?

People often say there is no point in controlling themselves, instead they want to relax and be spontaneous. The conflict between spontaneity and the effort to increase the quality of the communication becomes more common as soon as we invest time and energy in that direction.

My experience shows, and this is easy to recognise amongst most people, that 'spontaneous' and automatic reactions, those answers and behaviours that emerge from us before we think things over, almost before we even notice, are most often acquired defense mechanisms, or idioms we learned from our childhood environment - not true and honest reactions that really express who and what we are. In such cases it is important to learn not to react automatically. We need to give ourselves time to feel what is the true answer that comes from our feelings ... providing that we have learned to be truthful to ourselves. That can be called the true spontaneity.

Many people are, however, afraid to take the time and not answer immediately, as if they have learned to expect that the other person will utilise this time to 'outplay' and 'defeat' them in communication. The reality is quite the opposite: not only, in many situations, does the other person not have the need for this, but by giving ourselves time we are sending them a message at several levels - first that we care about the outcome of our communication and that we want to carefully think about everything that was said and what we will say, and secondly that we are aware, present and reacting with honest feelings (which automatically means an attitude of self respect).
Also, in many situations when other people are communicating inappropriately, the time we spend to think about the answer often makes them also think about their own behaviour.

Interpreting nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication carries the most important messages: not just conscious thoughts and feelings, but also the unconscious and unexpressed ones. However, we need to avoid the trap of black-and-white judgement and believing that a specific movement or gesture means exactly what we think it means. Many overly eager observers of nonverbal communication might annoy you trying to convince you that you are thinking what they think you are thinking... try not to become one of them.

Every gesture and change in people's faces needs to be observed together with all other parts of verbal and nonverbal communication, instead of being "translated" separately. Different details in environment might influence the feelings of the person you talk to, as well as random thoughts, associations and memories. If the person is aware that you're observing his non-verbals, he might feel and show uneasiness about it, if worried to be incorrectly judged. As in many other areas of life, I suggest you to allow your feelings and intuition to create an impression of what is going on, rather than using only rational analysis.

Real quality communication

If we try to control our non-verbal communication to send a message different than what we really feel, we will usually fail, except if we are particularly good actors. The nature of non-verbal language is unconscious and thus honest, so even if we manage to control some parts of our bodies, the others will signal how we really feel. A better approach is to truly create the feelings we want to communicate - not just for external results, but for our own improvement.

Every communication with other people, everything we tell them and the way we say it, influences their attitude toward us along with all further communication, i.e., how much will they trust us at another time and be open toward us. It's easy to escape in the 'spiritual realms' - yet every day communication is where true spirituality is: awareness, honesty and self-improvement.

Often we say something like 'I did everything I could... I don't how to talk to that person anymore!' Is this really true? Was there something more we could have said or done... maybe even many things... but perhaps we did not have the willingness, patience or courage to do so? Often 'all I could do' really means 'all I could do without risking to be hurt or threatening my ego'.

Similarly as with relating to our own selves, when we relate to others we need time and perseverance in order to exercise being present in the moment, deep awareness and sensitivity to all that occurs within us and in the communication. It is not always easy to learn to communicate our thoughts in honest and compassionate ways. However, once we learn this, our relationships- the most important thing for the quality of our lives - have a chance to flourish.

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." - C.G. Jung

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