See What They Say

Here are two of my favorite quotes about nonverbal communication.King-James-Scott-Rouse-Freud-550x510

The first is by Freud:  “If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips.”  The second is by King James 1:  “As the tongue speaketh to the ear, so the gesture speaketh to the eye.” 

Both are profound and true. Here are two fairly intelligent people, born hundreds of years apart, and both have observed the same quirk of human nature. That being, “Speak or be silent, I can see what you’re saying”

The reason you can “see” what they are saying is because the brain is trying to communicate. Not only does it use sounds to sounds, it also uses gestures as well.

When you watch toddlers communicate, you can pretty much understand what they’re saying to each other, even though they’re speaking gibberish. Your brain is trying to understand what they are saying. It’s programmed to do that.  You can see what they say.

When someone speaks to you, you look at them, you listen, and whether you realize it or not, your brain is deciphering what the meaning of their body language is.  You brain can see what they say.

For example, let’s say you’re watching a video of a baby in a highchair that throws food on the floor. And let’s say the mother thinks it’s so cute she can hardly stand it.

She’ll point her finger at the baby, bring her shoulders up to her ears as she pushes her head forward, her elbows will come in toward her upper torso and push against her ribcage, while she shakes her index finger up and down about half an inch from her chin at the baby.

All the while smiling and saying in a high pitched voice “You stop that… I’m mad at you. Yes I am!” The baby sees and recognizes this not as a threat, but as a communication of love.

THAT is scenario #1. Scenario #2, however, is a bit different. In this video, the baby throws food on the floor for the 7th time in the last 3 minutes. The mother hasn’t slept well nor has her day gone well. So she does the bigger, louder, meaner looking version of scenario #1.

She bends forward with a frown and squinched up mouth, her eyes are squinted, her hand is on her side, the elbow of that arm is pointed outward and away from her body, her finger is pointing and shaking at the baby as she says in a lower tone and higher volume, “No! Stop it! Right now! I mean it!”

The baby’s brain recognizes this as way too loud and a possible threat. The baby’s brain is confused and the limbic system kicks in and the baby begins to cry. Eyes closed, loud, the whole bit.

You don’t need to hear anything. Your brain knows exactly what has happened and is happening in both scenarios even with the sound off. That’s because your brain naturally knows the difference in the two scenarios.

Watch the news with the sound down. You’ll be surprised at how well you’ll follow the feelings of happiness, anger, frustration, and boredom with people you’ve never even met before.

Pay attention to those looks, pauses, breathing intervals, and eye blinks. And then begin looking for them throughout your day at work, school, while you’re shopping, everywhere.

You’ll be surprised at how much clearer your understanding of what’s happening around you has become. Try it. You’ll see.