The Importance of Nonverbal Communication

As a teen and child therapist, one of my roles is to help people find more effective ways to communicate. Miscommunication can lead to anxiety and depression, and is often caused by the overuse of texting.

As a teen and child therapist, one of my roles is to help people find more effective ways to communicate. Miscommunication can lead to anxiety and depression, and is often caused by the overuse of texting.

If you look at the video shown here, you will see that I’m wearing a mask as it starts. Because of this, you cannot see my face and therefore cannot see my expression. You are therefore missing most of my nonverbal messages.

As you probably have realized (the title gives it away too!) the topic of this video is the importance of non-verbal communication, especially during a pandemic. If you are a parent of children and teens, I think it is even more important to be aware of the messages you are sending and those that get lost.

Non-verbal communication is more than body language. Verywellmind.com has a great article that describes the types of nonverbal messaging that we use. Tone of voice, level of eye contact, how we dress, and others are examples of how we communicate outside of using our words. 

Non-Verbal Communication – What is it?

Would you be surprised to learn that the words that you use may only account for 3-30% of the messages that you give to others?

Lifesize.com suggests that only 7% of communication is verbal quoting a famous study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian in the 1970’s. This study has been criticized and Psychology Today makes a great point that the actual percentage can vary. PGI.com I think has a very interesting article that basically says the exact percentage is not important (they suggest that 60-70% of communication is non-verbal), but that communication is inherently a mix of verbal and nonverbal messages.

In the video at 1:42 I do the following exercise:

I’m going to say the following sentence a few times, and each time with more of me visible to you.

First, I’ll text it so read what’s on your screen. I am in a very good mood.

Now you cannot see me at all.  I am in a very good mood.

This time, you can see me with my mask on. I am in a very good mood.

Now, I’ll take my mask off. I am in a very good mood.

Take a moment and think about what just happened. When you just read the text, you have no way to really know if I’m telling the truth, lying, being sarcastic, or something else. As we get closer to you actually seeing my face, you get more information from me outside of the words that I use. Only when you can actually see my face is it clear that my mood is not as described.

This is why I am a firm believer in communicating as much as possible face to face. Only use texting in any form as a last resort for any meaningful communication. In my article “The Impact of Self-Quarantine on Mental Health” one of my recommendations is to use video communication tools as much as you can. Now you can see why!

Communication and Parenting

Now let’s bring it to parenting. COVID-19 has raised the overall anxiety and stress levels of many people – this is not a secret. When dealing with children and teens, communication by text message instead of voice increases the chances of a misunderstanding. More importantly, you are likely raising your own (and your child’s) anxiety levels. What do I mean by that?

When we text somebody and don’t get a response right away, we get stressed. When we get a message that is not clear, we get stressed. Often, the lack of clarity is because we don’t know the real meaning and intent of the text even when emojis are used.

Do yourself a favour – use text messaging only when necessary. Texting is great to provide information to somebody – “pick up milk on your way home.” It is fantastic at ensuring the person is able to talk – “hey, are you free right now?” or to say you are busy “sorry, I’ll call you later.” When used for actual conversations I think that much of your message simply gets undelivered.

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