The Sound of Silence

You and I both know how important nonverbal communication is in our interactions with others. However, do we really know, and understand, all the parts and pieces that go into that nonverbal communication? It’s easy to overlook part of it, or to underestimate the importance of nuances when we talk to others.

This is a nice piece on not only the importance of nonverbal communication, but also on the differences in the various rules of engagement. I’m sure you will learn, or be reminded of, something new or forgotten. Remember to practice this in your daily life…that’s how it will become habit.

Talk soon,



The Sound Of Silence

By Tom Hoobyar

Article Word Count 1276, average reading time 5.1 minutes.

People are constantly communicating with each other on many levels. In addition to the things we say, there is the way we say it — using tone of voice and emphasis to add as much meaning as the actual words we use.

And then there’s body language.

Our body language is part of the spoken language we exchange with each other every day of our lives. We have lots of unconscious and cultural rules about how we should interact, and sometimes they may be obstacles to making real contact with each other.

These rules are universal and largely unconscious. When people deal with someone who mismatches their culture’s or their personal rules of body language, they frequently dislike them without knowing why.

By being aware of these rules you can more easily appreciate the information you’re gaining about your conversation partner, and note the degree of ease they are enjoying with you.

If they are not at ease you have a better chance at working to increase their comfort. They will appreciate you for the effort, even if they’re not aware of what you’re doing.

Those who are skilled in law enforcement, sales and counseling are good at reading and using these rules. The neat thing about becoming more skilled in body language is that you can practice without anyone even knowing what you are doing – no risk!

Here are a few elements of body language that form part of every human interaction. Try to become aware of how they appear during the course of your daily experience with others. As you develop a sensitivity to these “messages” you’ll begin to absorb more of the communication that is constantly flowing between people.

Space zone requirements –

The space zones used by humans for various levels of acquaintanceship and intimacy are different from culture to culture and person to person.

Notice people’s personal space zones. That’s the zone that each person needs around themselves for comfort. Many unfortunate innocent mismatches and dislikes can be traced directly to differences in space needs.

How about you? When you think about it, how close can someone approach you before you begin to feel crowded?

Yeah, I know. It depends on who they are. If the person is a stranger you need more separation than if you were with a family member. And as I said, not only does it vary by the relationship between two people, but by the individual and cultural needs of the person being approached.

How can you know about any specific person’s space needs? Believe or not, you’ve been getting trained in this subject all of your life. There is an excellent chance that you’ll get a feeling about what’s appropriate with a certain person without really being aware of how you know.

Let’s try to make the information a little more conscious. You just need to pay a close attention to how people interact to become aware of the constant exchange of messages about how they feel about each other.

Communications about issues like space needs are usually exchanged non-verbally. As an example, if you get too close for a person’s comfort the other person may lean away, or look away or even glare at you in irritation.

On the other hand, a couple that’s romantic with each other tend to lean towards each other, turn toward the other when speaking to them, touch frequently, etc.

You probably know the “code” for your family members or spouses, etc.

When it comes to a n ew acquaintance, the best advice is to get within 36 inches only by invitation. The invitation may be a touch, gesture, or approach by the other person. This will vary primarily by culture. Be attentive and trust your feelings about what’s appropriate. You’ll probably be getting non-verbal signals before you consciously recognize what’s going on, but you will notice more as you begin to pay attention.

Facial Expressions —

Our facial expressions are a very “loud” non-verbal channel. It’s universally recognized that smiles communicate good intentions. We use smiles and frowns and all of the other expressions we have at our disposal to add to the richness of the messages we speak. Notice how our expressions resemble a movie more than a still picture, as they continually shift and alter, reflecting our thoughts.

Eyebrow flash –

This is a quick eyebrow raise that signals a greeting and welcome. It happens in a fraction of a second, and it’s used mostly to recognize someone you’re acquainted with. This signal is generally sent from more than six feet of distance. It’s a good way to create rapport from across a room without having to shout or wave. It’s like a silent salute of recognition.

Watch closely and you’ll notice it in lots of situations. Observe strangers when they first notice someone they know at a distance.

You should initiate this gesture whenever possible – you probably already do it unconsciously and were not aware of it.

Always respond to another’s eyebrow flash, unless you mean to signal hostility.

Practice this, and become familiar with its use by others. You’ll notice the positive difference in people’s response to you when you do.

Eye gaze –

When you are greeting someone, generally hold the gaze about 3 seconds, then it’s best to break the gaze downward. Then the gaze may be reestablished.

This is a very powerful form of communication. The timing of the gaze is culturally established.

Don’t be worried about doing it wrong; you were trained in this body language from your infancy onward. If for some reason you were disadvantaged in this training, just observe what is normal for the culture you are wanting to fit into.

Most Europeans hold an initial gaze for about 3 seconds, break it for relief and to show respect, then reestablish it. If the initial gaze is held longer by this group, it signals either hostile or romantic intent, depending on the gender of the people involved.

There are different “unwritten” rules for Native American, Asian, Latino and Middle Eastern peoples. Every human – indeed every primate and many mammals do this. My best advice is, watch and learn what’s normal for the group you’re with.

Smile –

You should match or slightly exceed your partner’s smile. Avoid under matching or greatly overmatching smiles. One signals dislike and the other signals either an improper interest or an unusual inner state; perhaps confused, delusional, or incongruent.

Inappropriate smiles make us confused.

You can help your body become congruently welcoming of strangers by doing a “trick” inside your head. Imagine you are seeing them as if they were an old friend that you had a wonderful relationship with years ago, and had lost track of. Then they appear out of the blue – what a happy surprise!

Let that joy greet your new acquaintance. Make sure that you turn fully toward them and smile.

Practice this slow spreading smile, increasing it as you get positive feedback from people.

You can create an immense attraction in others, both same and opposite sex, by the nature of this smile. It makes people feel extremely welcome in your presence.

Consider these tips about non-verbal communication. I think you’ll be surprised and interested at how much of this takes place during your normal routine interactions with the people in your life.

An understanding of body language will help enrich your enjoyment of human interaction, and perhaps, even your relationships.

Have fun!


Tom Hoobyar

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top