Language matters and how we communicate can be more powerful than we think.
“A perfectly tuned conversation is a vision of sanity – a ratification of one’s way of being human and one’s place in the world.” Debora Tannen
From before birth, we start learning to communicate with the world. We learn to understand vibrations, sounds, lights, touch, smells, tastes. We absorb from our mother’s wombs a multitude of stimuli and our developing brains quickly find a way of processing that input and making some sense of it all. But this is not a one sided process. Our mothers also learn to interpret our signals and some of the meaning we convey with a kick. We are connecting and communicating using the languages we know.
From an early age we absorb, like a sponge in a bucket of water, a multitude of information the world exposes us to. And soon enough, we start experimenting with different ways in communicating with those around us. The more varied the exposure we get, the better. This process of learning new ways of communicating goes on forever, as we constantly get exposed to new expressions in our own language, or even known expressions but with a newly assigned use. Languages are constantly evolving, developing, changing and we adapt to these changes, whether individually or as a community over time.
When I refer to languages, I do not refer only to English or Portuguese, or Spanish. But more broadly, to the many different kinds of non-verbal communication. It is estimated that 93% of our communication is non-verbal, relying on vocal tone or visual cues. And we learn to ‘read’ and use those cues quite efficiently from a very early age. We communicate with our tone of voice, speed of our speech, body posture, facial expressions, our hand gestures, how we dress and how we behave and present ourselves, amongst many other ways of expression. And these are usually much more powerful than any words we can utter.
We can communicate much more than we may think via non-verbal communication and no one should ever underestimate the power of these non-verbal channels. We can do a lot with words to communicate our thoughts and ideas or feelings. But we can do even more when those chosen words are joined by other means of communication, to either confirm what your words say, or to dismiss your statement completely.
The ways in which we communicate with the world can create bridges to connect us to others, but it can also close doors to opportunities or relationships. Next time you have a chat with someone, start observing these non-verbal cues in their communication. What are they telling you? Do they confirm what is uttered by the mouth? If they don’t, which language should you believe? The spoken words or what the other signals tell you?
Communication goes way beyond words being uttered in any language. Ask any diplomat or negotiator about the nuances of a conversation. Or consider those who cannot speak and rely solely on non-verbal communication. Or when one is in a situation where one needs to communicate with another but they do not speak the same language? They can still make themselves clearly understood by many other means. Or at times the reverse may be true. Two people who speak the same language, but cannot really understand each other. Either because some of the signals were not clear or perhaps those signals were misunderstood.
We all need to communicate, as we learn about the world and connect to others via different means of communication. Pay attention to how you and others around you communicate and use language (spoken or not). Using language to make a positive impression on others will certainly make things smoother in your life, as well as on other people’s. The way you communicate can influence how much power you have or exert on yourself and others. Use these powerful tool wisely and don’t forget to keep sharpening it constantly, so it can help you achieve your desired results.