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5 Unexpected Ways Punctuation Affects Our Relationships That You Aren’t Aware Of

5 Unexpected Ways Punctuation Affects Our Relationships That You Aren’t Aware Of

How can something like punctuation affect your relationships?

Punctuation may be having more of an impact on your relationships now than at any previous point in human history.

At no other time have we communicated on such a broad scale through written communication.

When you combine emails, instant messaging, online chatting, and text messaging, not to mention snail mail, post cards, and handwritten notes, the communication of most of your thoughts comes in writing.

Punctuation marks have developed to help capture the meaning conveyed through the inflection of the voice. Without your voice to accompany the text, sometimes it can be difficult to understand the intended meaning. Because you are not there to witness the impact of your words and clarify any miscommunication, something as simple as punctuation may greatly impact how people “see” you.

We’re not going to get bogged down in rules here.  If you want grammar lessons, look elsewhere.  And you should, because grammar mistakes can demolish what you’re trying to say.

For now, let’s look at some common punctuation habits that could be affecting your relationships that you aren’t aware of. By breaking these bad habits, you can communicate better with others and improve your relationships.

1. Are your parentheses passive-aggressive?

When I taught English, my students learned that parentheses convey ideas that you would say with your hands cupped around your mouth to share a secret.

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We’re going to Disney World for vacation again this year (because Mom has to have her way).

Parentheses can come across as tongue-in-cheek, playful, j/k.  If you’re not careful, though, parentheses come out as claws, sharing information that draws blood.

It takes skill to use parenthetical phrases for humor without coming across as passive-aggressive.

If you find that people are taking offense to your asides, try leaving them out, especially in work-related messages.  Here’s a chance to keep your foot out of your mouth.

2. Are you over-using exclamation marks?

Hey! Exclamation marks are great! They tell you that I am excited! Or I am outraged! Or I stubbed my toe!

When you use exclamation marks too frequently, though, you can come across like a chihuahua. While chihuahuas are lovely creatures, I have a difficult time taking them seriously. Chances are, if you overly-use exclamation marks, people have come to think of you as overly-excited, overly-dramatic, or insincere.

Aim to use exclamations when you truly want to convey intense feelings or opinion.  Or, if you truly are that indefatigable spirit or want to be the Cranky Old Man, keep using those exclamations! Just make sure you mean it!

3. Are your texts inadvertently angry?

The period can make you seem pissed. Ben Crair at “The New Republic” suggests that short texts ending in periods can come across as short-tempered.

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The first rule of punctation is that all sentences should end in a punctuation mark, yes? But maybe this could change for texts.  When I’m speaking, I don’t say “period” at the end of each sentence. There is a tonal implication of the end.

In texting, try using line breaks to convey thoughts without seeming to make statements with finality. Consider the meaning sent by this text:

I’d like to go see a movie.

How does that compare with the meaning sent by this text:

I’d like to go see a movie

Which one means, “I’m open to seeing a movie but I could do whatever” versus “The only thing I want to do is see a movie”?

If your texts are short and direct, but you don’t want to convey that you are short-tempered and bossy, try cutting out periods and use line breaks instead.

4. Are you too passive and unsure?

At the other extreme, some folks can communicate a lack of confidence.

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The over-use of questions and lack of punctuation signals that you don’t know what you want.  Look at these examples:

After reviewing the report’s findings, option C seems to have more benefits?

get some things from the store for me?

you room should be clean when I get home

People feel secure in relationships that have clear boundaries. If you communicate with too many question marks or consistently without punctuation, people may see you as uncertain.

Assertive communication, however, is clear with no room for confusion.

The report will be on your desk by 3.

When you want to come across with more authority, use periods at the end of non-negotiable statements.

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5. Are you too aggressive?

WHILE NOT PUNCTUATION, CONSTANT CAPITALIZATION HAS A MAJOR AFFECT ON WRITTEN TEXT.

IT CAN COME ACROSS AS LAZY.  IS IT REALLY THAT DIFFICULT TO TURN OFF THE CAPS LOCK?

IT CAN COME ACROSS AS IGNORANT. DO YOU NOT KNOW THE RULES SO YOU JUST CAPITALIZE EVERYTHING?

IT CAN COME ACROSS AS POMPOUS. DO YOU THINK EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TO SAY IS THAT IMPORTANT?

IT CAN COME ACROSS AS AGGRESSIVE.  I FEEL LIKE I’M BEING YELLED AT.

If you have been a caps lock addict, it’s time to get some help. (Ah, doesn’t that feel better?) You may make some mistakes as you go through withdrawal, but in the long-run you will connect with others.

Are there other ways punctuation can rub you the wrong way? Got any real-life examples?  Please share them in the comments below.

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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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