Don’t you hate it when people say yes when they mean no? Or when a salesperson barely acknowledges you at the checkout? Stressful as those behaviors can be, perhaps one of the most crazy-making for a woman is not being looked in the eye.
There’s a reason why your mother would say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” And how often do you find yourself saying it—or wanting to—to the men in your life? Women make eye contact because we value certain nonverbal behavior with both its rewards and consequences.
For instance, we’re more agreeable to what’s being said when the speaker makes strong, consistent eye contact. We feel like the person is speaking directly to or about us. We equate acknowledgement with appreciation.
Meanwhile, men are perfectly happy just tuning in to spoken language.
When receiving information, they don’t put any worth on meeting eye to eye with the messenger.
Clearly, not knowing this information can cause serious problems in your relationships.
And that’s just one way men and women differ vastly in their nonverbal communication.
Paying attention to body behavior isn’t just a good idea. Research shows that 7% of our personal messages are conveyed by words; 38% by tone of voice and 55% by facial expressions and body language.
So instead of driving yourself crazy wondering why your boss doesn’t look you in the eye, here are 7 ways to make sense of the body language that shows up in your life.
1. Look for incongruent behaviors. If what a person is saying doesn’t match their behavior, pay careful attention. Someone might tell you they’re happy while frowning and staring at the ground. Remember: actions don’t lie. Good to know: Women nod because it’s natural to acknowledge what the other person is saying. Men nod when they agree with what’s being said.
2. Note tone affects interest. Consider the powerful effect that tone of voice, loudness, inflection and pitch can have on the meaning of a sentence. Since men rarely use phrases such as “it would be extremely kind of you,” even their requests can seem like commands. Women shy away from commands, and rise intonation to express enthusiasm.
3. Understand appropriate eye contact. Looking, staring, and blinking are important nonverbal behavior. Women usually maintain a look longer than do men. How much eye contact is enough? Some communication experts recommend intervals lasting four to five seconds.
4. Stay in the moment. If you’re confused about another person's nonverbal signals, don't be afraid to ask questions. A good idea is to repeat back your interpretation of what’s been said and ask for clarification. An example of this might be, "So what you are saying is that..."
5. Get a sense of space. Personal boundaries are tighter for women than men. We prefer having conversations sitting side-by-side. Men prefer contact face-to-face. Both sexes are generally more aware of proximity to the front than to the side.
6. Know the truth about touch. Men are more likely to initiate touch…mostly as a form of power. Not surprisingly, women are more often its recipients. Women associate touch with prsonal warmth and expressiveness. Consider whether or not touch—and other nonverbal behaviors—are appropriate for the context.
7. Practice, practice, practice. Continue to read and learn about nonverbal behavior and its messages. When you know how to interpret the nonverbal behavior of other people as well as how to use body language to send the signals you want, your sphere of influence soars.
So next time your boss refuses to look you in the eye, influence your peace of mind.
The payoff is a life that’s more healthy, wealthy and wise.
What are some of your experiences with non-verbal communication? I’d love to hear from you.