Why Non-Verbal Communication Matters More Than You Think

Teaching has been an expert mentor in helping me see that what I say matters. My words are important because people are actually listening. But my actions may be even more so.

How I use my face and eyes and body when I’m talking reveals truth, sincerity, acknowledgment, reciprocation, and about a thousand other things. In communication, the non-verbal tells more than that flabber-jabber of yours could ever hope to.

No doubt, an important lesson to learn for life’s daily interactions.

Our bodies tend to betray our selfishness. If we’re tired or hungry, it shows. If we’re stressed or frustrated, there’s little space to hide. If we hate our job or have a lot on our mind, others will pick up on it. With no checks on our attitudes or actions, we can easily be blown around by the winds of emotion or circumstance. If how we communicate is as important as what we communicate, there are some things we need to get right if we want to get good.

Expression II

Check Your Mind

Why do so many gym memberships begin strong then digress into the “remote control thumb workout” and the “chip to mouth elbow bend”? It’s an easier path, isn’t it? Our minds must have a worthy goal before our stamina and energy and motivation and willpower all conspire to follow suit. If not, if we just revert to our natural state of “whatever we feel like today,” then our hopes of looking like the Schwarzenegger won’t ever land us on a cardboard cutout.

What we need is discipline. A determination to try, to give our best; to serve others even when we don’t feel like it. And it’s a decision we must make right now. Because it’s now or never.

Before you stand in front of a roused and attentive group of students, you need to check your mind. Breathe deeply and become invigorated by the potential sitting in front of you. If you are going through the motions of teaching without a genuine care for the lives in this shared space, stop now and set aside whatever hinders. Get right and give it your all. Give the best you’ve got right now because anything less is not worthy of you or them.

Here’s some ways you can do that, Arnold.

Bear Your Pearls

This one is huge. It can be a game-changer. It’s the single biggest giveaway to whether a person actually cares or not. Something about showing your teeth builds bridges with others. It connects us into each other’s stories, however brief the encounter. The smile sets the tone. Not to say the gesture will be reciprocated, but it certainly won’t be if you don’t first offer.

My suggestion? Stand by the door and greet your students as they come in. Smiling, of course. They are human just like you and have their own stuff going on outside the walls of your classroom. Yours may be the smile that reminds them they are noticed, cared for, and that life isn’t as bad as it seems. We need those reminders. We need the smiles of others because sometimes it’s hard to remember how or why.

Your smile connects. And connection is the name of the game.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is the practice of being present in the moment. When your students ask you a question, speak an answer, or need some discipline, make sure the eyes meet and hold. This lets the other person know you are listening and encourages them to reciprocate. Combine eye contact with smiling to introduce a winning influence.

Conversely, you know what it’s like to speak with someone who won’t look you in the eyes. Doesn’t it drive you crazy? Like they can’t be bothered or you aren’t worth their time. Don’t be that person. Learn to see, really see, not just look. You honor others when you do so.

Exude Confidence

The last time I rode a horse I was told to “let the horse know who is boss” by speaking clearly and commandingly, gripping firmly with my knees, and not being afraid to use the reigns when need be. The horses can sense who is really in control. If they think they can walk over you, they will. So I did all the above, like a boss.

It didn’t work.

I went in circles.

I blame the horse.

Funny enough, commanding a room is much the same. Standing up straight, projecting your voice, and gesturing with your hands can all work to show your students that you are the one guiding them. When we’re distracted and scattered, slouching and quiet and hands folded, the students pick up on it and if they get the chance, they’ll walk over you. You are the teacher. You are competent. You have what they need. If you don’t already know these things, then you are not going to convince anyone else of their validity.

Own the room.

And grip with your knees for dear life.

Move Around

Movement engages the mind.

Using your hands and arms to drive a point home can be an emphasis otherwise lost with static gesticulation. Walking around may also be a valuable tool for both keeping command and keeping attention. If possible, introduce some controlled chaos with interactive activities surrounding your lesson. Games and drama and other creative endeavors solidify what is being taught, putting some responsibility in the hands of your students, and insuring your status as the “cool teacher”. Maybe even rearrange the room a bit every now and again to keep students on their toes while you retain an air of mystery?

Because it’s kind of cool to be the mysterious one.

Attention Intention

When it comes down to it, intention is the key to non-verbal communication. Keep in mind what your body is doing, what you are communicating through facial expressions, and how your message is being sent and received, then make whatever adjustments you need in order to do all of that better. Practice, repetition, and discipline will be the three aspects of intention which help turn our natural selfish tendencies into selfless second natures of connection.

When I first began going to the gym, I had to set aside my pride and lift the weight I could rather than the weight I wanted. Six weeks later, I was closer than before to my goal. Effective non-verbal communication needs some strengthening if we want to become masters at teaching and connecting and inspiring. Hard work pays off, though.

Pretty soon, they’ll be making Made-for-TV-Movies about you. D-Grade celebrities will study your mannerisms in order to give the performance of their budding careers. Everyone, everywhere who watches Lifetime will know your story. The checks will pour in and, this week, you’ll be able to buy the name brand ice cream.

This is one of those times I should use the reigns. How about we start with smiling?

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2 Comments
  1. Overall this is a good post, but the point about making eye contact isn’t entirely accurate. In some cultures it would be rude and disrespectful for students to allow a teacher to make eye contact with them, whereas avoiding eye contact would be a sign of respect. Making eye contact could be valuable in some situations, but not all. It’s important to consider the cultural backgrounds of the students.

  2. Louise, excellent feedback! You are spot on with the importance of being culturally aware of acceptable, appropriate, and effective behavior, which is not something I addressed in this article. Thank you for that challenge and reminder!

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