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3 Steps Towards More Meaningful Conversations

3 Steps Towards More Meaningful Conversations

Women are from Venus and men are to the point. Or how does the saying go? You know the situation – women want to be heard and men want to solve a problem.

I don’t have the magic trick to make men and women communicate effortlessly but I can share one little trick to communication that certainly will help you better understand how to communicate with anybody. I have found that this deeper understanding of communication has been very helpful in all conversations in life.

Information is power?

We live in an age where information is abundant and still the right information at the right time can be the most valuable asset. The number of technologies and channels for information sharing has exploded over the past 20 years and still we pay little attention to verifying the meaning the information.

Talking about information is actually a bit tricky so let’s start by trying to understand the concept of information. The scientific definition of the word is very different from the common, everyday use of the word. In science (information theory), information is a measure of the uncertainty of an outcome — in other words, a measure of the number of possible underlying combinations of data that a message could represent, totally excluding the meaning of what is transmitted.

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On the other hand, in everyday use of the word, information is an expression for manipulating and organizing data in a way that adds knowledge to the receiver. In this meaning it is important to understand that a core characteristic of communication is that it is transmission of information in the reduced state of data.

A popular example of this is the famous exchange between Victor Hugo and his publisher after the publication of “Les Miserables” in 1861. After completing “Les Miserables,” Hugo left Paris for vacation. Being curious about the reception of his book, he sent a letter to his publisher only writing “?”. The publisher answered with “!” — and indeed “Les Miserables” was a success. Despite the very limited information exchanged, they both understood each other perfectly.

What is information?

The common understanding of information is that it is an expression for manipulation and organization of data in a way that adds value to the receiver. It is common to talk about Data – Information – Knowledge – Wisdom (DIKW). In the DIKW chain, data is the basic level, symbols, uninterpreted, and “as is”. When manipulated, organized, and put into context, data becomes information. When you know how to use the information, you have knowledge, and finally when you know when to use what knowledge, you have wisdom.

In this explanation, data does not have meaning and information is subjective. Both the sender and the receiver of data decide how to manipulate, how to organize, and in which context to put the data. Information can be transferred in various forms (newspaper, internet, email, picture, etc). Knowledge only exists in the heads of people; It is highly personal and is harder to transfer since it is concerned with how to use information and the possibilities are endless. A document used for knowledge transfer may cover the most plausible ways of how to use the information, but hardly all of them. When talking about wisdom you add morals and ethics to guide when to use which knowledge.

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The importance of what is not said

We think we understand information, but to fully understand what information is, it is useful to introduce exformation, a term coined by Danish author of popular science Tor Nørretranders. 

    Exformation is produced when information is created. It is all the things that are not communicated. Nevertheless, often expected to be understood by the receiver. This presupposes that the sender and the receiver have a somewhat common understanding of the contextual framework within which the communication takes place.

    Before the sender sends the message there is a process of removing unnecessary information. This process is called incitation. There is an unconscious incitation in which the sender’s values, ethics, and mood are reflected — also, a conscious incitation based experience from previous conversations about the topic, previous conversations with the receiver, the current situation, and the reason for sending the message.

    Upon receiving the message, the receiver has to put the message in a context to interpret the message. This process is called excitation, and it’s the process of adding information based on individual values, experiences, motivation, the situation, and the receiver’s perception of the sender to create meaning for the receiver. Based on this interpretation of the message, the receiver will shift to being the sender of an answer and starts the incitation process to make the information transmittable. In course of a dialogue there are several circles of incitation and excitation, and plenty of exformation — in other words, plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings.

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    The theory is applicable to every day life as well. In art, poetry, fiction, and comedy, the degree of difference between the incitation process and the excitation process is the difference between success or failure. An unquantifiable but distinct difference may lead to what we call creativity, an unexpected perspective on the transmitted data that creates new insights. In a work of art, there has to be enough exformation to stimulate the receiver’s associations and create meaning, but with too much exformation; If the receiver’s contextual framework is very different from the sender’s, the receiver will not understand and may deem the work of art as rubbish.

    Going back to the example of Victor Hugo, it is very clear that he and his publisher referred to the same contextual framework, and this allowed them both to create lots of exformation; They reduced the transmitted information to single characters and still maintained perfect understanding of each others’ meaning.

    3 steps towards more meaningful conversations

    In any conversation where you want to create mutual understanding, not necessarily agreement, try to keep the following three steps in mind.

    1. Focus on the conversation so you are receptive to all the things beyond the words being transmitted.
    2. Ask questions to better understand the receiver’s excitation process. Do you have an example? Do you have experience of this? How do you feel about that? What did you learn from it?
    3. Help the receiver to understand your meaning by sharing elements of your incitation process. Is there exformation that should be put back into the conversation to facilitate understanding?

    It will not work if you focus on the three steps — remember point 1 above — but with some practice, you can focus on the conversation, create flow, and intuitively inject point 2 and 3 to facilitate the conversation and create mutual understanding.

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    I hope that my incitation process in writing this has (consciously and unconsciously) lead me to transmit this message in a way that your excitation process puts it in the context it was intended.

    Did I succeed?

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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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