Understanding the Art of Face-to-Face Communication in Your Pursuit of Happiness 

Understanding the Art of Face-to-Face Communication in Your Pursuit of Happiness 

Communication is a necessity. In the past, most communication was done in person. Even after the popularization of the telephone, neighbors regularly met outside to chat face-to-face.

In our current world, however, most communication is done electronically. Even though nearly everyone has a cell phone, a large percentage of users utilize text messaging more frequently than actually making a phone call. The depersonalization that accompanies being behind a screen allows people to "say" things they would never verbalize on the phone or in person.

The art of face-to-face interpersonal communication is important to understand, and knowing in-person interaction skills is incredibly valuable. We'll begin with something truly physical – body language.

Body Language

The Importance of Good Posture

It is pretty much common knowledge that body language is influential in negotiations and the overall impression one makes. There are many "tells," or clues, people unconsciously give; the accuracy of experts at reading body language can make their observations seem like "mind-reading." By understanding some of the most common body language clues, you can not only decipher the motives of others, but purposely use your body to better express yourself and influence negotiations. We present this information not to encourage you to manipulate others in a negative fashion, but to educate and explore positive uses for this information.

Think back to the last face-to-face interaction you had with a superior at work, a parent, or a teacher who was behaving in an angry or derogatory manner towards you. How did they stand? What was their posture like? How did their physical presence affect you? Most likely, they stood a distance from you, their arms folded, body turned slightly away from you, with posture tall and stiff. You probably had the impression they were "looking down their nose" at you. You likely felt physically and/or emotionally small, and perhaps a bit defensive, but unwilling to act. Your posture likely reflected your inner state – slouched and balled-up and powerless.

There's a reason adults always told you to stand up straight when you were a kid – slumping is a posture of weakness. Whether you realize it or not, your physical posture also influences your mental and emotional state; the end result is a vicious circle of weakness. If you wish to operate from a position of power, start by practicing good posture.

Try the following exercise: Wearing comfortable clothing and no shoes, stand in a room where you won't be disturbed. Begin by "shaking it out" – allow your body to move and stretch freely for a few minutes to loosen up a bit. With feet together, stand up and take a slow, deep breath all the way down to your diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle vital to the breathing process. It is located between the chest (right below the lungs) and the abdominal cavity. If you place your hand right above your stomach and take a very deep breath, you'll feel your diaphragm expand. Use this type of conscious breathing (called diaphragmatic breathing) throughout this exercise.

Take another diaphragmatic breath, hold it for a count of three, and exhale slowly. Continue to breathe as you roll your shoulders slowly from front, to top, to back three times. When you reach the back of the third roll, use your muscles to press your shoulders down and back. Your arms should be relaxed at your sides. This will lift your chest and square your shoulders, allowing you to breathe more deeply and freely.

Continue breathing and stand up to your full height. It should feel as though someone is pulling a string straight up from the top of your head and "stretching" you upward, releasing all the "kinks" in your spine. Make sure you continue to breathe and keep your body tall, but relaxed. Don't tense up, especially in the neck or extremities.

Finally, tuck your butt under slightly – this helps keep the curvature in the lumbar region from being too great, which can cause lower back pain. Still breathing, relax into your body's new, correct posture. (This exercise is meant to be repeated as often as necessary.)

With a physical "base" of good posture and a basic understanding of body language, it is possible to use your body as a negotiating tool.

Persuasion and Negotiation

When negotiating or attempting to persuade someone, you want the other party to feel included, supported, and safe. This can be greatly assisted by using appropriate body language.

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There are a few basic body language rules you can use to enhance your negotiating skills. For instance, if you lean or turn your body away from the person you're speaking with, you've assumed a defensive posture, which makes you seem unapproachable or dismissive. On the other hand, turning your body and leaning slightly toward the person you're speaking with is a supportive posture, which makes you seem more approachable and interested.

Turning your head away is another defensive position, while facing your dialogue partner is supportive. Other defensive actions include "towering" over another, tilting the head back and away, crossing arms and/or legs (closing off), and using unnaturally grand gesturing.

To engage your conversation partner, keep your head and body turned toward them. Do not "tower" over them; instead, match their body posture. If you must cross your arms, ensure both your hands are showing instead of tucking them behind your elbows. If you cross your legs, do so in a manner that does not "close you off" from your partner. Use natural hand gestures and avoid "over-talking" your partner.

Understanding defensive postures is very useful for spotting and avoiding the toxic people. Keep this in mind as we discuss word choice and vocal tone.

The Power of Word Choice, Vocal Tone, and Inflection

Part One: Word Choice

Imagine you're listening to a lecture on a subject that interests you greatly. As the speaker delivers the information, you begin to find yourself disinterested. The speaker seems to be lacking somehow. As you listen, you notice the speaker is using rather simple words – not merely layman's terms, but word choices more suited to a fourth grader. Saying "good" for instance, instead of choosing a more descriptive word. Not only that, the speaker keeps using the same bland descriptive terms over and over again. It seems as though he's merely plodding through his presentation. Realizing this, you roll your eyes. No wonder the lecture seems so boring!

Now imagine the same subject presented by a dynamic speaker. He clearly has an understanding of, and interest in, the subject and enjoys sharing this information with others. He uses a variety of descriptive words during his lecture and avoids re-using the same terms repeatedly, if possible. Although eloquent, his word choices are not obscure and his meanings are clear. Now there's an engaging lecturer!

When speaking (or writing, for that matter), word choice can often make or break you. Read the following two short paragraphs from employees looking for more project funding and choose the most informative, persuasive one:

Paragraph one: We know the project is really running over budget and we know this really upsets you guys but we really need to finish up this thing anyway. Because after all we've put into it, we really have to finish it or we're like all totally screwed. So the bottom line is, we're going to have to spend some more money on this, whether we want to or not.

Paragraph two: While costs for the project have exceeded the original budget amount, the necessary adjustments needed to keep the project funded and on schedule are negligible when weighed against the ultimate benefits available once the project is completed.  

If you were the committee, which employee would get further funding approved? Aside from the unprofessional tone, the author of the first paragraph uses colloquial terms and inappropriate word choices (you guys, screwed), repeats/overuses words (really), uses filler words ("like"), and ends the paragraph on a negative note, ("We're going to have to spend some more money on this whether we want to or not.") These things may be persuasive, but in the wrong direction! On top of the grammatical errors, the punctuation errors are atrocious.

The author of the second paragraph presents the necessary information in an appropriate, professional manner, and the request ends on a positive note (". . . [the] adjustments needed . . . are negligible when weighed against the ultimate benefits available once the project is completed.") Additionally, the punctuation is outstanding – notice the second paragraph is all one sentence, yet it is not a run-on sentence (like the first sentence in paragraph one).

 "Hey dudes, who drank all my milk?" might be appropriate wording for a refrigerator note to your roommates, but you'll want to word it quite differently if you're posting the note in the office break room.

One very important thing to remember is avoid curse words. Even if cursing is part of the "culture" of those you're speaking to, curse words sound base and unintelligent. There are far better word choices available than the F-bomb!

Part Two: Listening and Speaking beyond Words – Vocal Tone and inflection

We all know words are powerful, but think, for a moment, about how we say things. When someone uses a whining tone of voice, what is a typical reaction? Whomever that person is talking to will probably shut off instantly. Whining is not only annoying, it's passive-aggressive and manipulative, and it makes you appear weak.

Try this brief experiment: Say the following phrase out loud, first in a whining tone of voice, then in a firm and quiet voice:

"Stop doing that now!"

How did this sound as a whine? Would you take that request seriously? On the other hand, how did the quiet, firm delivery sound? Chances are, you'd comply with a request delivered in such a manner.

It is important when speaking influentially or publicly to avoid fillers, such as "uh," "ah," "um," "like," etc. Filler words detract from your message and signal to your listener(s) you may have doubts, or lack information, about your subject. If you must pause, do so silently. As Mark Twain said, "It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt."

Particularly when speaking to a group, avoid unnecessary or exaggerated body movements. Gesturing for emphasis is good, but throwing your arms or jumping around wildly probably won't work well, unless you're part of a comedy act. Excess movement can be distracting. Don't over-exaggerate your body movements so "the people in the back" can see you. Believe us, they can see you just fine; you'll only look silly.

Also avoid annoying and/or distracting "tics," such as throat-clearing, lip-smacking, pen-clicking, and repeated filler words and phrases ("So, like," "So basically," Anyway," "Dude," "And whatnot," etc.). Remember your body language cues and use those skills to connect with, and engage, your audience, whether it's a large crowd or an audience of one.

Purposeful Electronic Communication

We'll end this article with a few words regarding electronic communication.

While Internet etiquette has fallen by the wayside on most public sites (think of the amount of bullying and "trolling" that takes place constantly!), it is still important – and better for you in the long run – if you practice good Internet etiquette.

Be polite. – We all should have learned how to be polite in kindergarten. Don't "say" anything on the Internet you wouldn't say if the person were in front of you. And if it isn't nice, consider not saying anything at all.

Pretend everyone, including your mother, will see every post you ever make .– Posting that drunken, half-naked photo of yourself while you were partying may have seemed like a "fun" idea at the time, but it won't be so great a few years later when it surfaces during vetting for an important job.

The Internet is forever. – Despite hitting "delete," unless you are a crazy-good, Internet-expert, hacker-type genius ala TV crime shows, you will always leave a footprint  for everything you post to the Internet, including that snotty movie review filled with inappropriate language you posted last week and the "adult content" short story you wrote and posted in college. People lose scholarships, jobs, relationships, and are refused employment and entry to graduate programs -- and more -- based on misunderstood Internet tweets. It is a more common occurrence than you may imagine.

Bottom line – Think. – And think, and think again – before you post. You may not think you care right now, but consider some day you might. We've all seen how apologizing works for those blasted on the Internet – not very well usually. How much of a chance are you willing to take?