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15 Common Communication Mistakes That You Might Be Making (But You Don’t Even Know)

15 Common Communication Mistakes That You Might Be Making (But You Don’t Even Know)

How many of you had a class in school that taught you how to communicate well? And I’m not talking about in college. I’m talking about K-12 grades. And I’m not talking about giving speeches in English class. Here’s what I mean: Did your teachers give you advice on how to work through arguments with people? Did they teach you to be a good listener? If they did, they didn’t do it through the formal curriculum. I should know. I’m a communication professor, and I tried very hard to get some schools to adopt a communication curriculum. Unfortunately, I was not successful. Communication can make or break our world. I know that is an extreme statement, and I know I’m biased because I teach these skills. But it’s true. Bad communication leads to broken relationships, and it is also a part of the reason why we don’t have world peace. Very few people really have good communication skills. But here’s the good news: It’s never too late to learn. Here are 15 common communication mistakes that you might be making, and you don’t even know it:

1. Not using “we” language.

Newsflash: Relationships are not a competition. Or at least they shouldn’t be. But so many people view the other person as the “enemy.” They speak with “me vs. you” language. You need to reframe it and think of yourselves as a team. Work together, not against each other. Work to solve a problem, not to be victorious.

2. Not giving eye contact.

How many of your are guilty of staring at your phone when someone is talking to you? Or typing on your laptop? Or watching TV? Even if you don’t catch yourself doing this, I’m sure you all have. But all of us have also been on the other side – when people are not looking at us when we talk. How does that make you feel when it happens? Yeah, not good. Right? So why not live by the golden rule and give other people the same courtesy that you want to be given?

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3. Interrupting.

What does it say to someone when you interrupt them? It says, “What I have to say is more important than what you have to say.” Not a very nice message, huh? Women tend to interrupt out of excitement and/or being afraid they will forget what the are going to say. Men tend to do it more as a power move. Either way, it still says, “I’m more important than you.”

4. Having negative or apathetic body language.

Ninety percent of the meaning of a message is contained in body language. That’s huge. Eye contact is part of body language, but it’s only a small part. What about your posture? Do you lean in toward the other person or are you positioned in a way that screams, “I really don’t care what you’re saying?” What about your head tilt? What about how close or far you sit from someone? All of these send strong messages. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

5. Not paraphrasing and restating what the other person says.

Have you ever said something to someone and you had a bad feeling that they didn’t actually hear what you said? Sure, they might have said, “Mmmm hmmm…” or “Yeah…” or “Yup…” But you know they didn’t really hear you. That’s where paraphrasing and restating comes in. Try saying something like “So, what I hear you saying is that when I am late, it makes you worried? Did I hear you correctly?” That shows the other person that you not only heard them, but you care enough about paraphrasing it in order to show them that you heard them.

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6. Making assumptions before you hear the whole message.

You probably have rolled your eyes at people, thinking, “Oh I don’t even have to hear the rest of this – I already know what they’re going to say!” Well, maybe you do, but maybe you don’t. Don’t do that. We don’t like when people make assumptions about what we are saying, so don’t do that to other people either.

7. Letting your emotions control what you say.

You’re so angry that you think the roof is going to blow off your house. Okay, yeah. We’ve all been here. But it’s what you do when you’re feeling that way that really counts. Don’t let your emotions get into the driver’s seat. Go cool off so you don’t regret what you say. Then, when your logical side has kicked in, sit down and approach the conflict with “we” language. Remember #1 – you are a team. It’s not a competition.

8. Not asking probing questions of other people.

Saying things like, “Tell me more about that”  or “So how did that make you feel?” lets the other person know that you care about them enough to ask for more information. That’s called a probing question. Ask people to elaborate. It makes them feel good.

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9. Referring to yourself and your life more than asking people about theirs.

If you never ask other people what’s going on in their life, then you look pretty darn self-absorbed. I have people in my life who spend about 95% of the time we are together talking about themselves. Not that I mind that much, but it would be nice if they ask how I’m doing once in a while. Can you relate?

10. Needing to “win” an argument.

I’m going to repeat this again. Relationships are not a competition. Admitting that you’re wrong is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of maturity. No one is right all of the time. Don’t think you have to “win.” Acknowledging your mistakes will not give away your power. It shows that you are the better person because you can be honest.

11 Attacking other people’s character instead of what they say or do.

How many times have you said (or heard) something like, “You are such a JERK!! I can’t stand you!” And maybe you regret it later (you should). We all have bad behavior from time to time. And we will never agree with everything everyone says. But you need to disagree with their words or their actions, not their character. Don’t tear people’s self-esteem down. Build them up.

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12. Expecting people to be a mind reader.

No one is. So why do we expect them to be? Women tend to be guilty of this more so than men. Women use indirect language. But if you really want someone to understand you, you have to speak directly. Otherwise, you can’t hold them accountable if they misinterpret your cryptic message.

13. Giving up your power with your words.

Women also tend to use “powerless” language. This is excessively polite language that gives up the power to the other person. For example, “I’m sorry, but am I bothering you?” That gives them the opportunity to say, “Yes you are! Go away!” Or how about “This might be a dumb idea but …” The other person can come back and say, “You’re right! That IS really dumb!” Own your power. Don’t give it away.

14. Letting anything distract you from giving your full attention.

Your phone. The TV. Your thoughts. Your bad attitude. I could go on and on about all the things that distract us from paying attention when someone talks to us. Be mindful of when you are giving into these things. If you don’t, it sends the message that “this is more important for me to pay attention to than you.”

15. Not being empathetic & realizing that perception is reality.

You see it your way. Someone else sees it another way. Who’s right? Is a Republican right or a Democrat? Is a Christian right or a Jew? It all depends on who you ask, right? Sometimes there is no “objective” reality. It’s all how an individual sees it. Remember that. Having empathy and realizing that the other person’s experience is very real to them is key to good relationships. Being a good communicator takes effort. It’s like being a good athlete – you have to practice if you want to be good at your craft! I hope that you take these 15 things to heart and start working on them today. And please share them with others as well. I wish you all happy, healthy relationships!

Featured photo credit: Claes Josefsson via flickr.com

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Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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