Nonverbal Communication. What does it mean to you?
When asked this question, most people answer 'body language'. This is correct. But there is more. As other nonverbal experts like Joe Navarro and Carol Kinsey-Goman mention, body language is hugely important, but it is only one piece of the full nonverbal landscape.
From what we wear, to the accessories we adorn ourselves with, to the set up of a room we enter or welcome someone into - there is a multitude of messages being transmitted all without the utterance of a word.
Many of these things, most of the time, are consequences of subconscious decisions, but they are ripe with information - if you are paying attention. Unfortunately, it is rare that we think thoroughly about the nonverbal components of a message transmitted. And yet, how many times have you experienced a meeting, an encounter or a date after which you couldn't pin point what exactly was off?
I bet you can think of quite a few 'awkward' social situations. Was it something they or you said? Maybe. But most likely, there was discord between the words coming out of someone's mouth, and the message their nonverbals were sending.
Take the following instance as an example. You have had something on your mind for a while which you would like to discuss with a colleague. One day you cross paths with your boss between conference rooms and decide to take the opportunity to bring up your issue. Making eye contact is already difficult because their line of site is directed towards their next meeting, or perhaps some quiet time in their office? Either way, your mind is on the matter and in trying to be casual you bring up some small talk before stuttering through to your point. It's difficult because your colleague doesn't seem to be paying attention. In the end it is suggested you find a time with the assistant - not what you were hoping for.
When you leave you are confused though you recognize it maybe wasn't the right time. What nonverbals might have allowed you to come to that conclusion sooner? Most likely, the direction of their feet, pointing away from you, or the half turned torso, maybe they were slightly leaning away from you or kept looking towards their ultimate destination. Did they have an armful of material and was it placed as a barrier across their chest separating you from them? None of these things need be divulged verbally. Additionally, the other more contextual nonverbals would include the impromptu environment you chose to conduct your conversation and a read on the way they may have been walking - with purpose and a clip to their step prior to your interruption.
An evaluation of nonverbals before and during a conversation can save both you and your interlocutor a good deal of stress, awkwardness and miscommunication. Body language and a good read of other nonverbal cues is a powerful tool to employ in any social situation - go ahead - try listening with your eyes!