This Simple Observation Technique Can Improve Your Communication Skills
You know that communication is important. You also know that there are skills you can learn to improve your communication.
Many of those skills have been covered before.
Whether individually or as part of other topics like interviews.
But did you know that there is a simplified method of learning and remembering how to communicate effectively?
We have a communication technique which we will teach you. It focuses on the visual cues you can openly see from your audience. If communicating with an individual, the same applies.
All you have to do is know what to look for.
And the best part is that the name of the technique is itself a tip to help you remember everything.
THE APF COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
Being something you do daily, communicating is natural. However, it can also be challenging.
This is especially so when you consider the increased attention communication is getting.
It is being discussed everywhere and the skill is a must-have for any job.
As such, you can end up being tense the next time you want to make a good first impression.
How does your voice sound? Are you standing in the right posture? Is your face betraying your fear? Are you shaking the person’s hand well?
To help you overcome this challenge, here is a technique which will come in handy.
Since communication is over 90% non-verbal, it focuses on the non-verbal aspects. We call it the APF technique.
It is helpful for both communicating well and understanding how the other party is communicating. Here is the breakdown of it.
A – ARMS
Your arms are one of the parts of your body which are likely to be moving most during a conversation. Of course you can have your arms stationary at your sides. This is however very unlikely.
In the course of the communication, non-verbal cues will be released and you may move your hands involuntarily.
The movement or position of your arms says a lot. It helps solidify your message and make it clearer. It helps demonstrate what you are talking about.
To better see how this works, let’s dig into various hand positions and movements and what they imply. Remember that these work across the board.
You can observe them to better understand your audience while also being careful to utilize the right cues to communicate better.
When your audience has crossed arms, it’s easy to assume that they are closed off. Popular explanations for crossing one’s arms is that this means you are not open to the conversation.
This has been greatly popularized though it’s not entirely true.
There are many reasons someone may have their arms crossed across their chest.
1. Being defensive – this is one of the commonly-held explanations of crossing your arms. True to the explanation, you will naturally cross your arms when you feel as though you’re being attacked. This is a self-defensive reaction.
If you are talking with someone about something then you notice them cross their arms, consider what you have just said. Regardless of how soft your tone is, accusations made against someone else can elicit this reaction.
2. Self-restraining – when someone is getting really upset and is about to act in anger, he may also cross his arms. This often happens with people who are inclined to bursts of anger but are trying to master the weakness.
In an attempt to withhold themselves from doing something they may regret later, they will typically cross their arms. If the anger is too much, you might notice some shaking in their arms.
It’s as though they are locking their arms away to avoid punching you in the face.
3. Anxious or fearful – another cause of crossing the arms is anxiety and fear. Fear itself is the cause of many non-verbal cues which are exhibited in various ways and not just through crossed arms.
But one of the ways it comes out is when someone is in a situation which causes them anxiety. The fear of what the end of the situation will be is what makes them anxious.
4. Power pose – this is well talked about as it is one of the more common reasons behind crossed arms. When you intend to show authority, you may find yourself crossing your arms. The same applies to the person you are talking to.
When you’re trying to convince someone of something and they cross their arms, they might be telling you that they will decide later.
Or maybe they are not convinced with your explanations. You can expect some tough questions from them.
As they do this, they will be making it clear that your progress is subject to their approval. If you find yourself in such a situation, it’s time to change tack.
5. Listening analytically – very few communication experts mention this. It might be because it’s not widely seen but that doesn’t make it worth ignoring. If you want to see this at work, get someone who is analytical and engage him on a technical subject of his interest.
Start a discussion with him about a new development and seek to explain the logic in it. You will see him listening keenly and crossing his arms. Is he telling you he isn’t interested? No.
On the contrary, he is very interested. He is actually very engaged and you can see this through other cues like his facial expression.
6. Warding off the cold – how can communication experts ignore this one? Don’t people all over the world attempt to keep warm by crossing their arms? If it’s really cold, they will also be shaking and maybe rubbing their arms at the same time.
This is more of a self-hug to keep warm. And it can certainly happen during conversations when out in the cold. Is the person closing himself off? No.
These are some of the reasons people cross their arms. When you see this, do not be quick to conclude that the person is not interested in the conversation.
It will be better to check other signs or consider the whole environment before making a conclusion.
Clenched Hands (Fists)
This is another part of the body to watch for cues to direct your communication appropriately. The hands, though an extension of the arms, work quite separately during communication.
As with crossed arms, the popular explanation of clenched fists is anger.
Yes, people clench their fists when angry. You probably do it too.
But there’s more to it. Also, clenched hands can also be located on different areas of the body.
And the different parts for resting the hands imply different things.
1. In front of the body – this can happen with the hands in front of the face or on the table. The reason is usually anxiety though frustration could also cause this action. You will normally see this on someone trying to convince someone else about something but isn’t being successful.
When displaying frustration, this is a sign of self-restraint. There is potential for an unwanted expression that needs to be avoided.
You can also see this when the person speaking is anxious about not communicating effectively.
If you notice this from the person you are talking with, it’s time to digress a little. The subject is making him uncomfortable.
You can also try understanding the trigger which caused the response. Do this by asking open-ended questions about the situation.
2. On the crotch – if someone places their clenched hands over the crotch, they are trying to be confident. They are however not confident because they feel quite vulnerable. This often happens when in front of an authority figure or in front of many people.
This can also be a sign of respect. When talking to your boss, for example, you might feel uncomfortable with your hands on the side. Intending to show respect and confidence, your hands can naturally move to this position.
The biggest cause is however a feeling of vulnerability. If the person you’re talking with does this, try making him comfortable.
Use more gentle words, smile some more and don’t say anything that directly touches on him. Don’t make any negative comment about him.
3. Behind the back – ever seen the police hold their hands behind their back during on-foot patrols? This is a sign of confidence. They are basically saying that they are in control.
All the same, this is not the only interpretation you can glean from observing this. Holding the hands behind the back can also signify vulnerability.
Again, this can be easily seen when an employee is speaking with his superior. It therefore largely depends on the context.
Hand gestures are another universal mode of communication. Some gestures are signs intended to be meaningful communication.
In other cases, the hands are used to help describe something or show differences.
Before we look at the different gestures often used in communication, it’s important to take note of one thing. Some gestures have very different meanings depending on place, culture and other factors.
For example, consider these differences in body language across the world:
- Whereas nodding your head may show agreement or approval, Bulgarians and Greeks use it to indicate a negative.
- While the Portuguese tug their earlobes to indicate that the food is tasty, doing so in Spain means you’re not paying for your drinks.
- Although you may think it normal to use your finger for pointing, some Latin American cultures use their lips for pointing.
There are many types of hand gestures which people use for communication. Some work like shortcuts whereas others are “additional communication.”
It’s important to know these gestures so you can understand what is being signaled by the person you’re talking with. Moreover, you can also utilize these gestures to better communicate your message.
It might interest you to learn the results of one TED Talk research by Science of People. It was found that the least popular TED Talkers used an average of 272 hand gestures during their 18-minute talk. On the other hand, the most popular ones used an average of 465.
Do you see the difference? Do you see the connection between the number of hand gestures and the success of the speakers?
Well, you too can learn the trick.
You can learn what to look out for in other people’s response. You can also learn how to consciously use the same gestures to be successful in your communication.
Here are some hand gestures to familiarize yourself with. The video below the list shows these in action. Watch it for even more hand gestures you can use for more effective communication.
- Listing – this is done when giving a count of something. You often use it when making points. You will show one finger and talk about your first point. You will then go on to show two fingers and make you second point etc.
- Everything – this happens in either of two ways. You can move one hand from one side to the other. Alternatively, you can have both hands draw a big circle in the air. Your hands will start from the same point, go round in opposite directions and meet at the beginning.
- You – this is a great alternative gesture to the pointing usually done with the index finger. Since finger pointing can feel like an attack, you do this using an open hand. Your palm should be facing up as you move your hand slightly towards the person you’re talking with.
This list represents a small sample of gestures used by people while speaking.
What’s more, you will avoid being boring. Speaking while your hands are completely rested on your sides make you look rigid and boring.
P – POSTURE
The second letter of this technique stands for posture. Although it’s easier to see arm movements than posture because of their visibility, someone’s posture also says a lot.
Primarily, this can be divided into two: sitting posture and standing posture.
It’s necessary to note that matters to do with posture also touch on health. More specifically, the health of your back. A bad sitting or standing posture can result in back pains.
You can also consider a third category—walking—but this may not be very necessary. If you can decode someone’s feelings and attitudes by how they sit or stand, their walking will be automatic.
For example, someone with little self-confidence will sit in a certain way. The way he positions his shoulders, keeps his head low etc. will most likely be the same while walking.
Here is a link to walking postures. You can study it separately to understand it as a single subject.
An upright posture communicates confidence. Whether sitting or standing, the upright posture can be noticed easily.
When you have this posture, your head will be held up and your back will be straight. If seated, your back should be in contact with the back of the chair.
Apart from confidence, you can also pick cues of interest from someone with an upright posture.
Think of how you would sit up in class during an interesting subject. Or during a boring one but then the teacher happened to change topic and cracked a joke.
Any time you’re involved in an interesting conversation, you will likely take this position. For your audience, they will respond in a similar manner.
This is a bad sign for you if you’re giving a presentation. Your audience slouching means they are not paying attention. Their minds are not where their physical bodies are.
Generally, this posture is the kind that you see on people who are lazy or are working as though forced to. Their movement is slow and you can tell that they are using a lot of energy to make a single step.
Slouching may indicate disinterest or a low self-esteem.
If the person you’re talking with is not interested in the conversation, you will prove it through other cues like looking away. They may also be checking the time, their phone etc.
If it’s a matter of low self-esteem, the response might be slightly different.
They may be putting an effort to engage but saying little. It will be as though they don’t have much to talk about. This is despite seeming interested in the conversation.
If talking with someone who is constantly looking down, something is going on.
The common explanation is that they are trying to hide something. This is often the case. The other possible reason is shyness.
This is of course depends on what you’re communicating. Unless you’re hitting on that person, you can safely ignore this.
If you’re speaking with someone who is constantly looking down, you will not have a productive exchange with that person.
If both of you are standing, suggest walking a little. This will remove the need they have to look at you.
If they are lying about something, you may notice a sudden relief and an ease in talking. If there was a contentious issue, the struggle to explain it will cease or at least reduce.
If it was a matter of shyness, the change will not be radical. It will be much gradual.
F – FACE
Lastly, the letter “F.” This stands for facial expressions. This is quite easy considering that the basic emotions to look out for are just six.
There are 6 basic emotions which people generally exhibit.
Everything else flows out of these.
These might be the easiest part of the technique since they require little training.
1. Happiness – this facial expression is the ultimate proof that what you’re talking about is being well received. Happiness is one of the most sought after feelings. Life is considered by many to be stressful enough that the smallest dose of happiness is always welcome.
Note that you don’t need to be a comedian to make someone happy while listening to you.
It is not necessarily about making someone laugh as it is about making them like being around you.
If you connect with someone well, their smiles will show that they appreciate your company.
2. Sadness – a sad face is common during mourning. Being a very distinct show of someone’s feeling, you should not ignore it. This is a negative feeling. The person exhibiting this will ignore everything else apart from empathy.
If when talking you notice sadness, immediately find out what the problem is. Maybe the person just remembered something sad.
Or you mentioned something which brought up a sad memory.
Since you don’t want to dwell on that, change the subject.
If you’re planning to speak publicly, it helps to research about the audience beforehand. This way, you will avoid mentioning sensitive subjects unknowingly.
3. Fear – one of the most powerful emotions is fear. Fear is so powerful that it has been used to manipulate great masses. Politicians often use it during election campaigns to tell their supporters that their opponents’ victory means harm.
Sales people and marketers also utilize this emotion. They show you the badness of the problem you’re facing before showing you how their solution will give you relief.
When you speak with someone expressing fear, the first thing to do is seek to comfort them. Be empathetic and don’t rush to offer solutions.
If the person is willing to talk about the issue, listen. Genuinely pay attention and show that you are concerned.
Once they have opened up to you, then you can bring in your solution. The trust you have earned by listening and showing genuine concern will open the door for your solution to be embraced. Or at least considered.
4. Anger – depicted in emojis using a red face, this is indeed a danger sign. If your audience is angry with something you said, better be careful. Be ready to get out of their way before something comes flying your direction.
If standing in front of the person, move your body to face away from him. Also try moving slightly away from them as you soften your voice. If your words are what have made them angry, be quick to apologize.
In case you’re not sure what went wrong, feel free to ask. Watch for any signs of potential aggression. If he tells you what went wrong and you’re not directly responsible, just apologize and change the topic. If necessary, stop the conversation.
5. Disgust – if disgust is shown towards something, then that’s quite okay. But if towards someone, to some extent, that’s not okay. Expressing disgust against someone is quite disrespectful. It is better to express disagreement than show disgust.
Showing disgust against people is simply an issue of hatred and in most cases, it is uncalled for. This is common when people are trying to force others to agree with their opinions.
As such, disgust is a sign of intolerance. It can also result from character assassination.
If this is the attitude shown towards you, be careful how you proceed. If the mistake you made is mentioned, respond by showing that you admit the mistake and apologize for it.
If the situation worsens, just back off. Another opportunity to communicate and relate will come up.
6. Surprise – this expression comes up when something good happens unexpectedly. It might be an unexpected gift, a surprise acknowledgment or anything of the sort. Surprise should not be confused with shock.
Although surprise can be both positive or negative, it is often positive. Shock on the other hand is only negative.
Surprise will often be accompanied with joy and characterized by a shout, raised hands, jumping etc. And depending on the context, some people might also hug you.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the APF technique is purely observational. It focuses on what you see and not what you hear.
This does not mean someone’s tone is not important.
Furthermore, none of the three cues i.e. arm movements, posture and the face can be interpreted individually.
As pointed out in the section about crossed arms, such a move can be misleading.
These cues should also be interpreted in context.
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