Communicating Effectively: Connecting through Dialogue and Nonverbal Communication

Communication is one of the most difficult parts of leadership. Essentially, communication is the process of sending and receiving information between people. Effective communication requires the sender and the receiver to deliver a message that is clear and translated well; Individuals working together in the same organization, team, or unit need to speak to each other continuously to keep each other updated on the most current information; sharing information plays a critical role in teamwork success. Yet, sharing or translating information is challenging; in other words, it’s difficult to convert what we mean into what we say and to translate what we say into what we mean (Covey, 1991, p.183).

Useful communication needs to be a conversation – a dialogue, not a monologue. A conversation is an exploration in which participants agree to try to gain a better understanding of issues or concerns. (Denning, 2007) A dialogue can be an informal exchange or conversation as well as a formal discussion or negotiation between two or more people about opinions, ideas, feelings, or ordinary issues of any kind and sometimes about opposite perspectives. Ideally, dialogues need to be collaborative and in a productive one, people listen to each other to find common ground, meaning, and mutual agreement. Leaders can facilitate more collaborative conversations by: asking questions; leveling with people; showing vulnerability; building on the contributions of others; sharing stories; and encouraging others to share stories. (Denning) Essentially, leadership communication is about influencing others – setting goals, changing behavior, and inducing action. Maxwell (2010) in his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently claims that connecting increases influence, and describes it as an ability to relate and identify with others that can be developed.

Connecting with other people includes the following approach: first, understand their value; then understand it is entirely about others; and finally understand that connecting occurs when others actually feel valued. (Maxwell) Leaders have a greater chance of connecting with others when they relate to each other using nonverbal as well as verbal communication skills, and in reality, they can connect most successfully when they leverage effective nonverbal communication strategies.

Maxwell implies that connecting requires energy and initiative and identifies four components to connecting, including:
1) connecting visually – what people see
2) connecting intellectually – what people understand
3) connecting emotionally – what people feel
4) connecting verbally – what people hear

Most people either consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to the message sent via nonverbal communication (behavior and verbal tone) rather than the actual words spoken. (Price, 2012) Research suggests that nonverbal messages are believed more so than the verbal ones, especially when someone sends an asymmetric message in which the nonverbal message is incongruent with the verbal one. (Price) In general, experts indicate that between 50-80% of all communication is nonverbal and that nonverbal communication carries between 65% and 93% more impact than the actual words spoken, particularly when messages involve emotional meaning and attitudes. (Price)

In a business dictionary, non-verbal communication is defined as the behavior and elements of speech apart from the words themselves that transmit meaning. Non-verbal communication involves pitch, speed, tone and volume of voice, gestures and facial expressions, body posture, stance, and proximity to the listener, eye movements and contact, dress, and appearance.
Interestingly, up to 10,000 nonverbal cues can be exchanged in less than one minute in a face-to- face interaction with just one person. (Wood, 2012) Apart from actual words spoken, nonverbal cues encompass numerous ways in which people can present and express themselves, including body language, nuances of the voice (i.e., tone, volume), details of dress, and use of objects that communicate.

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Effective and carefully selected nonverbal communication is critical for effective leadership. Body language, which is a form of nonverbal communication, is an integral part of a person’s communication style and encompasses facial expressions, eye contact, posture, movement, gestures, physical state, position and relationship to other bodies, objects, and surroundings. Body language is meaningful when we meet someone for the first time, and therefore, leaders need to be aware that body language is influential in forming first impressions. Leaders need to understand that eyes are vital to body language; massive feeling can be conveyed in a particular glance with no words spoken at all.

Furthermore, body language is constantly being exchanged and interpreted between people; thus developing an awareness to “read” body language and to understand the messages being sent through body language helps leaders become much more effective in their ability to communicate.

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