Everything seemed fine at first. You were just having a chat, but then she walked off abruptly and you didn’t know why.
This common problem is often ignored because it’s not very obvious. People’s lips are moving and words are being said, but something is missing.
A lot of the social cues involved in communication are non verbal, so if these cues are not noticed, it can leave the other party feeling like they’re not being heard. Yes, you heard the words, but you didn’t see what they were saying.
Communication Always Goes Beyond Words
Unconscious signals make up most of our communication. Our brains tend to pick up on these signals without any conscious effort on our part.
We can usually feel when something isn’t right, or the mood in a room changes. We’ve probably all been in situations where everything felt right with an intimate partner, then we hit a cold wall.
UCLA research has shown that only 7 percent of communication is based on the actual words we say. As for the rest, 38 percent comes from tone of voice and the remaining 55 percent comes from body language.
The challenge arises for some people who haven’t internalized all of the signals which are being thrown their way. Just like anything in life, some people are naturally better at seeing what is being said.
Others need to train themselves once they become aware of a gap in social sensitivity.
Emotional Intelligence Is the Foundation of Sensitivity
Sensitivity can be learned like any skill. It’s mostly a matter of learning to read other people’s physical cues. Paying attention to empathy is also important. What would you feel in their shoes?
Emotional intelligence is a flexible set of skills that can be acquired and improved with practice. – Dr. Travis Bradberry, Talentsmart.com
This takes a conscious effort to do because it’s easier to not do. In other words, we have to try. Instead of running the same old mental record, it’s important to be conscious of what’s going when observing people.
Our emotional intelligence directly affects how sensitive we are to others. It allows us to read social situations, individuals, and even ourselves.
Understanding Yourself Is the First Step to Understanding Others
The first step in retraining your mind to be sensitive to others is to understand yourself. It’s shocking to see how many people are unaware of what they’re communicating through non verbal cues.
Many people who suffer from depression, social anxiety or shyness could improve their own moods by becoming conscious of their body language. The same unconscious signals they’re projecting to others also affect their own moods negatively.
The way we use body language isn’t just a projection of our feelings, it also affects our feelings.
To first start becoming self aware, pay attention to the link between your body language and you emotions.
What happens when you feel insecure socially? For most people, their hands go in their pockets. Many people will fidget. Shallow breathing usually accompanies all of it.
Exercise: When you feel a negative or positive emotion, what did your body do reflexively? A smile, clenched fist, tight jaw or staring at the ground will all correlate to your feelings. Pause when you feel a particular emotion and see what your body is doing.
Becoming self aware will not only help improve your emotional sensitivity, it will also give you the power to change your emotions.
Observe, Observe, Observe
Now that you understand something about yourself, start paying attention to others. How do people react to you when you talk about certain subjects?
I wouldn’t suggest it, but if you’ve ever been at a table when someone brings up politics, the change in mood is easy to see.
Based on your own self-observations, you’ll be able to tell a lot about other people’s feelings. Is his fist clenched? That probably indicates stress. Hands in her pockets? She might be feeling insecure. If you’ve experienced it, you’ll be able to see it in others. Match your own self observations to the way other people behave.
If someone is talking, drop your phone. Leave the social media, text, and emails alone in order to give your full attention. Sometimes emotional insensitivity doesn’t mean you can’t read the signals, it’s just that you’re not tuned in.
Distractions can have a negative affect on our relationships. I personally won’t even bother talking if someone is looking at their phone. Usually the abrupt silence will get their attention again. Sometimes a friendly reminder is necessary.
Listen to Understand, Not to Reply
Just as being distracted will kill communication, waiting to respond will also block true connections. It’s hard to truly understand what someone else is feeling when we’re just waiting to start talking again.
Try this exercise to develop your listening skills. This is conversational method I call the snowball technique. Not only will you experience deeper levels of communication, you’ll also be able to keep the conversation going. No more awkward silences.
- Pay attention – Obvious enough, but this is where many people fail. By paying attention, you’ll learn a number of different facts about people which could all become conversations on their own. This is one reason I call it the snowball technique, because your conversation will grow like a snowball as you continue.
- Reword their wording – Whatever they say, take the main point and summarize in your own words back to them. Not only will you show that you’re listening, you’ll also understand better using your chosen words.
- Add your opinion on their topic – Now that you’ve rephrased their point, add your opinion. This will keep things conversational so it’s not a question and answer session.
- Dig deeper – You have an understanding of his point, now dig deeper. Here’s a real opportunity to learn someone’s true feelings, motivations, and interest. It also creates some vulnerability. That vulnerability builds trust and a deeper sense of connection because we feel connections to those we open up to.
- Recall – You might be running dry on one topic, but if you were paying attention you can now recall another point he made earlier, and bring it up. Even better if it relates to the last topic but it’s not necessary. Recalling something he said 5 minutes ago will surprise most people, demonstrating your excellent listening skills and interest in what they were saying.
Bring Conscious Attention to the Small Signals
All in all, by bringing conscious attention to social sensitivity, you’ll learn the signals which paint the big picture.
Start with understanding yourself better, and pay more attention to what people are saying and doing. Then you’re unlikely to run into sensitivity problems again.
Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash via unsplash.com
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