Hearing Center of Long Island - March 2019

Body Language Fluency

How Nonverbal Communication Affects Our Conversations

What do movie stars and those with hearing impairments have in common? They are experts when it comes to nonverbal communication. For actors and actresses, facial expressions and body language are vital to their performances; for those with hearing loss, nonverbal cues are especially important for simply understanding a conversation. Science suggests that nonverbal communication is a huge part of how we interact with each other. According to psychologists, our communication is 55 percent body language, 38 percent tone of voice, and 7 percent spoken words. So, when you are at a concert or near a busy road, sometimes you have to rely on the nonverbal language of the person you are communicating with rather than the inflection and substance of their words. Choosing your words carefully is always a great choice, but how you act and present your message may be more important in getting your meaning across.

The digital age has made communication even more complicated. A person may say “okay” with a cheerful demeanor in person, whereas over email, the word “okay” can come across as harsh or intense. Their nonverbal communication is cut because of the platform the message is being delivered with, despite their intent. Furthermore, nonverbal communication is not only important when you are trying to get your message across to someone else, but to be an effective listener, you also have to give cues to the person speaking with you that you are still listening. An occasional “uh-huh” or nod of the head can go a long way to improving communication by assuring the speaker that you are paying attention. Conversely, turning away when they are in the middle of their sentence or showing a blank facial expression can create a basis for miscommunication or shut the conversation down completely.

However, it is important to remember that nonverbal communication has its limits. If a person has their arms crossed and their shoulders hunched over, we may read that as a sign that this person is standoffish and wants to avoid speaking. But if we know that it is only 5 degrees outside and they are wearing a thin coat, this person could actually just be cold. This is why we also rely on tones of voice, the words that are being said, and outside context to create meaning.

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Never miss a good chance to shut up.


–Will Rogers


The Sound of Laughter Q: What should you say to a runner in the St. Patrick’s Day marathon? A: “Irish you luck.”

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