This has been a much beleaguered topic in classroom discussions, especially as of late. Non-verbal communication is an interesting topic — but it’s also one that is misunderstood.
One thing that I tell my students, as I teach them about personal accountability regarding their communication, is that they are partially responsible for how they are perceived by their audience. Sure, there’s always a possiblity to be misread or misunderstood in what you convey — but you also have to ask yourself, “what message am I sending that is causing people to react this way, and misinterpret me?”
And that’s a hard question to have to ask yourself. It’s far easier to blame others and say that the fault lies completely with them — and not yourself. But, that’s a shallow way of looking at the complexities of communication, and a way of avoiding any responsibility for “coloring” your language with the subtle tones and hints of chosen non-verbal techniques.
In a way, I suppose the posting of this topic is a non-verbal message of my own. In the last few weeks, I’ve had to deal with several instances of people conveying one message in words, yet through their tone/attitude, another message was perceived altogether. If your non-verbal message contradicts what you are actually saying — then the audience will typically pay more attention to whatever non-verbal elements they’re perceiving, rather than the actual words of your message.
An important element of non-verbal communication (which, incidentally, shows up in both written and verbal instances) is noticing the communicator’s tone. I define tone for my students as the “writer’s/speaker’s attitude to the audience and material.” It’s a huge part of communication — and usually is the first thing noticed by the audience, yet the first aspect that is denied by the speaker.
This business of teaching/learning about communication is like a double-edged sword. While it’s great to know what’s going on in relationship dynamics, it’s also a burden when you see a disconnect, and others playing upon it.