Archive for March, 2015

Your Feelings are Showing

Communication is often equated to finding the right words to express oneself. This may be sufficient for writing an email or a thank you note, Boredom in the officebut when communicating in person, there is a huge portion of your expression of which you are probably not conscious, and those you speak with don’t have to be super intuitive to pick up on these messages.

When I was a teenager, my mother told me, “Rolling your eyes or sighing are just as much talking back as a verbal argument,” and there were consequences for these expressions even without my verbally talking back. And honestly, when a coworker rolled his eyes in response to the speaker in a meeting, it felt just as rude as if he had verbally called her stupid. He wasn’t even aware that he had done that and now wonders why relations with that coworker are strained.

Unconscious communications are hard to hide for those of us without certain personality disorders. A coworker turns red in the face and scowls whenever anyone disagrees with her in even the most polite way. A customer service representative says he’s sorry he can’t help you and yet smiles as he disappoints you. You get the message loud and clear and yet may feel you cannot complain about the behavior because it isn’t overt.

We don’t always get the expressions right. The person scowling in the audience may be seriously considering what you say. The one who is smiling at your presentation may be thinking about last night’s date. But in most interactions, you really can’t fool anyone about your true feelings, and your true feelings are not always acceptable ones. How do you communicate without inadvertently offending people?

You can become hyper aware of your expressions and keep a lid on any which convey unacceptable messages, but this takes a lot of effort and you will probably forget and let the mask slip when you get absorbed in the business at hand.

When you do catch yourself sending a potentially offensive message with your expression, it can help to explain yourself. “If I’m scowling, it’s because I can’t figure out a foolproof way to implement that policy,” or, “I’m sighing as I try to imagine how we could do what you suggest,” or, “I’m sorry, that reminded me of something funny, I’m not laughing at what you said.”

If you really want to communicate constructively, it may be wise to cultivate a basic respect and patience for the people you deal with, so your expressions are less likely to convey contempt or anger. It isn’t a quick trick, but it is quite foolproof.