What information is received in basic human commmunication is often very different than intended based on psychical communication. Body language, vocal pitch, and other psychical gestures can make similar information be received differently.
In example, if a person angrily yells, “Have a good day!”, there is a probability that the reception of that comment will not be received as, “Thanks! I will have a good day.”.
I think about how verbal communication and psychical communication are received by others because I want to be a better communicator. This post documents some of my observations of human expression that alter the perception of conversations. My observations are natural. I’m not expert in communication—more like the opposite. I often walk away from conversations thinking, “I didn’t do a good job with my expressions. What could I have done better?“.
Making others feel good in basic communication
There are simple communications that people can do to make others feel good—smiling, telling jokes, listening. This seems obvious but it is not! A joke can be misunderstood. Someone has to talk to you for you to listen. Even a smile can be misunderstood in the wrong context. When I think about it, what’s the simplest way to make someone feel good? I’m not sure. It’s nuanced. Below, I’m going to breakdown things I have observed with human expression.
When I was younger, I thought that smiles always make others feel good. Maybe they did—when I was younger. Now, I’m older. In simple communication like passing by someone, if I smile at them, my smile may be received as an intent to engage. Engaging someone in unwanted communication is negative. I’ve found that smiling at others is received positively in simple communication when the opportunity of further engagement is low. Meaning that if I smile at someone as they are leaving in a car, there is high chance that the smile will be received positively.
Alternatively, if I smile at someone and walk towards them, how a smile will be received is unknown. It is how the person perceives the smile. They could be overjoyed that I’m engaging them or the opposite, “What is this person going to bother me about?“. The simple scenario of smiling is now complex and beyond simple expression. Another example of when a smile can be received negatively is if the smile receiver is upset. If the smile receiver is upset, they could feel that smiling at them is laughing at them. Or, like their anger is not being acknowledged.
Jokes are an important ways to engage in conversation. They convey a connection to the joke receiver. Jokes require that the audience is listening but unlike smiles, they can lead to engaging in conversation—even if they’re not understood. The key to joke telling, beyond a joke, is positive body language. Positive body language is laughing with your body. I’m not an expert at laughing with my body. Most plainly, laughing is a good start.
Similarly to smiling, telling jokes to someone who is not trying to engage in conversation or is upsetting and can lead to a much different reception of the joke between the joke teller and the joke receiver.
Listening is a great way to become closer to someone. In order to listen to someone they must want to communicate with you. A friend of mine had a joke when we were in college. He would shout to girls, while drinking, “What’s your story?“. It was funny to all listeners generally because it was clear, that they would not want to tell him their story (and he didn’t engage after).
The concept of the joke my friend told is still interesting to me now because I wonder when being an engaged listener becomes a positive thing. It seems clear that someone has to feel trust towards you want to share their stories with you. To be an engaged listener, people must be actively ready to talk. It often takes time and prior conversations to make someone want to be in active communication with you where you can listen. I’m not clear on the power of engaging and listening. I love how great it feels to be in an engaged conversation of “story sharing” but I don’t know how to get there.
Being received well in difficult communication
Difficult communication is very important. I have never met someone who is good in difficult communication and not in a position of power. It is a rare skill, and from observation, difficult communication seems easier than listening, joking, and making others feel good but it is not.
The ability to have difficult communication is something I view as a flaw with humanity. Difficult communication is difficult, not because humans don’t see problems. Humans are great at seeing opportunities for improvement! Difficult communication is difficult because of the emotions that most people feel when delivering difficult communication. So, often people that are talented at difficult communication have less emotion than others might have. To me, this means that when providing difficult communication, being concise and as calm as possible is key.
Speaking softly is great for communication. It makes people feel comfortable. It naturally brings people closer because they have to get closer to listen. Being a passionate person, I have become aware that a large part of communication is not what is said but how it is said. Controlling pitch and voice inflection is hard. Speaking softly is an easier thing to do on the fly; especialy when communicating with passion.
Keeping communications short
Keeping communication short allows others to contribute their ideas and also, ensure that they understood you. This goes against natural inclination when trying to communicate about complex things. However, I’ve observed many times giving listeners the opportunity to digest information or ask for clarification will lead to much more understanding for them of what you’ve said.
Even when we have a bad day, we have to communicate with others. I think we all wish that we could hide our emotions but people have instincts. They’ll often times know something is not right. They may think that it has to do with them when it has to do with you. Letting them know that you’re having a bad day but you want to talk with them allows then to not read into your verbal queues.
Communication is tough! For people that it comes naturally to, it is powerful tool. Others will gravitate towards them. People like feedback, positive and negative. Being able to deliver information in ways that can be received by others more positively and closer to the communication intent will lead to closer relationships.