Nonverbal communication; a tricky subject at best, and at its worst however, it can seem to be an impossible labyrinth with the ever-looming monster of inner criticism waiting to punish your every mistake. At least that what it has felt like for many a person (including me) with either a physical or neurological difference. No one is exactly sure what the exact percentage is, but it’s fairly common to hear that nonverbal communication makes up roughly 2/3 of our overall communications with others. That’s about 66%, and what we actually say with words is only about 33% of what we think we’re communicating. The channels of nonverbal communication are in layman’s terms: gestures, physical proximity, touch, eye movement, eye contact, voice quality, intonation, and diction. I think I covered just about all of the channels, forgive me if I forgot anything. With such an intricate subject being such a large part of our overall communication experience, both every day and in our personal relationships, when it comes to material on the subject, there is something that very few people actually think about. What might that thing be?
Most of the material written about the subject of body language is written making two very large assumptions: the first being that one is physically capable of making their body language congruent with their communicated desires, and the other being that the individual reading them has a nero-typical brain; a brain unaffected by anything like ADHD, or an autism spectrum disorder. I speak from the vantage point of one who is somewhat unable to affect all of the desired gestural traits that are said to be prevalent in good communication due to cerebral palsy, and I have an autism spectrum disorder, meaning that it is extremely difficult for me to pick up on the finer points of body language, so it is also hard to mimic them.
As far as what I’d like my body language to say about me, that’s a difficult question. I suppose it would depend on the day in the situation but then again, I’d suppose that that would also be true of most other people as well. In a general sense, I would like my body language to say that I’m easy to talk to, approachable, that I enjoy conversation, and in possession of a rather affable personality. But there are days when I would rather that my body language communicated that I would like to be left alone. The biggest trouble with these particular desires, at least in my case, is that oftentimes when I want to be left alone people tend to approach me more frequently than I’d like, and when I’m seeking the company of fellow human being I tend to be left alone. Somehow I feel as though I’ve got my wires crossed. I find that kind of ironic however, seeing as how I used to spend time teaching socially awkward males how to approach women in ways that make them less anxious, therefore appearing more confident. Maybe I need to get back to the basics as well.
In order to improve my nonverbal communication skills, for me it requires hours of conscious rehearsal. It’s very difficult for someone to constantly make their body language intentionally congruent with their thoughts and feelings, especially for one to whom that ability was not given innately at birth. This is why the best actors in film and on stage, are lauded as being talented. Because they practice this to such a degree, that they can give a congruent performance on command; it’s also why bad acting is so easily noticed even by people like me. Something always seems off if one does not constantly think about the concept of congruency as it relates to verbal and nonverbal communication. I tend to take a preemptive strategy, so as to make up for my deficits in this area. I usually tell people about my problems reading physical cues, and I tell them that I will speak plainly letting them know what I want from them, and I expect them to do the same so as to avoid unneeded conflict. This creates rather odd relationship dynamics, but I find that people are put much at ease when they find that they can speak openly about their thoughts and feelings without much fear of reprisal being that they don’t have to hide much. In fact, it’s beneficial to both parties involved if they are open about what they mean, rather than depending on physical subtlety to communicate. While I may appear somewhat robotic on the outside, I assure you that I experience emotions just as intensely, sometimes even more so. It helps to know that I’m able to express my emotions verbally amongst my closest friends and loved ones and that it is easiest from involved.