Recognizing and Changing Nonverbal Communication Disorders: An Interaction Approach

I was at my local coffee shop the other day chatting with my barista as she prepared my drink.

Once it was all said and done and I paid, she wished that I had a glorious day.

What a glorious day for Canada and therefore the world
What a glorious day for Canada and therefore the world

Glorious is not a word you hear often and definitely caught me ear.

You might even say it was salient!

I have this thing when someone uses an uncommon descriptor. When this occurs, I typically try to use an even more ridiculous descriptor.

I especially like to apply this method to wish someone a better day than I. For example:

Joe Blow: “You have a good day.”

Me: “You have an even better day.”

Glorious is a bit more difficult to top, but in the blink of an eye I was able to respond:

“You have a splendiferous day.”

Stupid? Yes. Did I get a laugh and a smile? Absolutely.

Me doing this silly little thing with people is irrelevant. What is relevant is the speed that I was able to apply this quip.

Just like this guy
Soon I may match his quick wit. Soon.

I spouted this word quickly because it fit a common pattern. Pattern recognition is huge in athleticism, medicine, and a multitude of other life facets.

But how often do we think of pattern recognition when we interact with individuals? Being able to differentiate what both verbal and nonverbal communication one uses is critical in ensuring a favorable interaction with someone.

And if your patient or client doesn’t like you? Fugetaboutit.

But then, if you disagree, like "A DNS course is better than a PRI course? Fugetaboutit!"
But then, if you disagree, like “A DNS course is better than a PRI course? Fugetaboutit!”

Let’s look at a very common pattern that if you allow one to persist in will sabotage any connection you are trying to make.

The Double Cross

When you are chatting with someone you ever see this?

She's probably not cold.
She’s probably not cold.

In body language realms, crossing of the arms and/or legs generally signifies one is closed off from further discussion. This position subconsciously protects several vital organs and defend from threats.

This means a threat has been perceived, whether it was you, something you said, or something else.

Good luck implementing therapeutic neuroscience education with someone in this posture. They will not be open to anything you say. In fact, forget making any suggestions.

Whatever you are sellin’, they ain’t buyin’.

When you see someone pulling off that ill crossover, you have to do whatever is possible to get them out of it if you hope to further the interaction.

And they say posture doesn't matter in people with pain.
And they say posture doesn’t matter in people with pain.

An Ounce of Prevention

If you watch me interact with someone I will almost always sit to his or her left. Wonder why?

If you read this book by Daniel Goleman (one of my favorite authors), he states that many of our brain’s emotional control centers are located in the right hemisphere.

Since most sensory information travels to the contralateral hemisphere, the sensory inputs given by my left sided placement theoretically could send more information to these areas.

Being to someone’s left could build a better emotional connection. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why most mothers will hold their babies on their left side.

Not sure, never been a mother.
Not sure though, I’ve never been a mother.

Moreover, if we look at things from a PRI lens, people generally have an easier time rotating their neck and thorax to the left. This positioning is less effort for an individual to be in.

Sit close in this case as well, as most individuals are better at focal vision with their left eye. Again, you are keeping the individual in his or her comfort zone.

Consequently, people will be less comfortable crossing the right leg over the left, reducing your odds of closed off body language. Unless you get something like this:

Shoe flipping is an added bonus
Shoe flipping is an added bonus

Then you are likely winning.

I switched to people’s left side during my initial evaluations about a year ago and it was amazing to me how less frequent I saw any form of arm crossing.

When in doubt, think left.

The Pound of Cure

Let’s say you have set up a great environment but unfortunately your client is still closed. What can be done?

You have to get them out of protect mode with none other then a favorably salient input. Attention must be redirected to a more pleasant mind state.

You have to get them into the prefrontal cortex.

Here are some suggestions that you may try

  • Change your body position – I will often go and sit right next to them. This posture conveys I am aligned with them. Friends sit side-by-side after all.
That's why this show lasted as long as it did.
That’s why this show lasted as long as it did…and because of Jennifer Aniston.
  • Touch – I will touch their arm.
  • Ask – Ask if they have a question, or what their thoughts are.
  • Joke – say a funny quip that you have in your repertoire. [Note: If you don’t have a joke set, get one]
  • Ask if they are cold – Sometimes people cross their arms because they are cold. Regardless of if they are cold, you will redirect attention to their body language. If they are not cold (like living in AZ), they will often change their arm posture. If they are cold, you can change the temp in your office.
Groovy baby.
Groovy baby.
  • Reach – Have them reach for something or give them something to hold onto (a glass of water works great. If I am TNE’ing, I’ll hand them one of my markers).
  • Open up – make sure when you talk to them you are conveying an open posture as much as possible. Palms facing them and help reel them in.
It's not just good rhetoric that makes him liked by people.
It’s not just good rhetoric that got him votes.
  • Change the subject – If you see someone cross their arms when you mention a subject, it becomes clear very quickly that they don’t feel comfortable talking about it yet. Redirect.

To Sum Up

Nonverbal communication is something we all must think about during all of our interactions, and likely plays a huge role in building rapport and buy-in.

Next time someone closes you off, try one of my above strategies and let me know what you think.

Any thoughts or strategies you use to get people to open up? Comment below.

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3 thoughts on “Recognizing and Changing Nonverbal Communication Disorders: An Interaction Approach

Add yours

  1. Zac,

    Love your newsletters and articles.

    As for mothers holding their babies on the left – since the majority of adults are right-handed, holding a baby on your left leaves your dominant hand free to do things. I have not been a mother, but I was an older sibling to two babies for whom I had a lot of responsibility, and did things like feed them a bottle, cook, and do other household tasks with a baby on my left hip.

    But I’ll keep in mind staying on my clients’ left if I can.

    Your fan,

    Alice Sanvito

  2. From a coaching standpoint, eye contact and the ability to read micro-expressions have been key to me in getting people to open up and understanding people.

    Being able to read contempt allows me to know what they think of the homework I give them and modify it to suit their needs.

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