I received a text from a friend recently, a few days after I shared with her something I’d experienced with my three small people: “Hey Ina, we started […] with the kids, very basic stuff. J [4 years, ed.] is so thrilled! I have a very good feeling about all this re family harmony.”
Here’s what had happened: One Saturday morning, I don’t remember why, I said very very little. I used gesture, basic sign and mouthing mostly. The tangible calm and connection in the house, and how there’s actually very little need to verbalise, astonished me. And it got me thinking about what is happening when we rely heavily on verbal communication. Or the other way around: what happens when we shut up.
There’s more eye contact
Non-verbal communication needs eye contact or physical contact. No shouting up the stairs, no talking with your back turned. You make eye contact to let the other person know you’d like to connect. And you keep that contact to check how your message is received.
Communication is much more honest this way. One, because all interlocuters are actually “in”. Two, because your eyes reveal so much more about your true inner state.
Try it! You may be suprised at how little, and how short, eye contact there actually is with voicing. We just had a situation here the other morning when I signed “thank you” to my 8 year old on my way past. He then stopped me and said “Hey, you didn’t keep looking!” … I missed him signing “You’re welcome” because I only made eye contact very briefly to know he’d receive my message. I didn’t stay connected…
There’s more physical contact
If you can’t catch their eye either by looking at them or waving, you need to make physical contact by tapping their arm for instance, or placing a gentle hand on their back. Just like with eye contact, there’s an instant connection, one that goes deeper. Physical touch releases oxytocin, a feel good horomone, in all participants. And who doesn’t want to feel good? Sometimes, gentle touch is all that’s needed to ease tension or difuse a situation…
You “listen” through all channels
Switching off your voice takes away a lot of distraction and allows you to focus on non-verbal channels of communication like body language, facial expression and the aforementioned eyes. It let’s you hear and feel the other person’s vibe, which, again, makes for deeper connections and more honest communication. You may be surprised by how many questions you don’t have to ask if you tune into the answer…
You slow down
All the above mean you are fully present with your interlocuter and less present for “other stuff”. You won’t talk while focusing on the dishes, you won’t talk across rooms, you won’t talk while loading up the car. This, in turn, takes your pace back a gear. Less rush, more focus, more breathing space for your own body. And curiously, I’ve noticed that allowing this to happen actually get’s more stuff done, somehow …
There’s more space
This is an extension of the slowing down. Often, sound can be a barrier in the flow, like a rock in a stream. If the atmosphere is not awash with auditory noise, there’s more space to flow and to experience:
“A toddler will verbalize to themselves continuously as they play […]. But if you have a television or a radio on in the background, it eliminates 80 percent of the child’s verbalizing. It blocks the channels […] because they haven’t learned to filter noise out yet. […] We really have to look at the auditory environment we put our children in. Just leave the environment alone, you know? Leave it unpolluted so the child can fill out.”
(Steve Biddulph in A. Gambotto-Burke: “Mama. Love, Motherhood and Revolution” Pinter & Martin, 2015)
I’ve noticed this particularly with my youngest. He would, for instance, play at one end of the kitchen while I prep dinner the other end. He verbalises his play, commenting, taking roles. My not commenting on his verbalising gives him space, doesn’t interrupt his flow. It also allows me to feel, hear and enjoy his concentration, imagination and experimenting. If his verbalising is indeed meant for me, he will repeat or say my name before the utterance.
It’s quite similar for us grown ups, really. Sometimes you just want to share with a friend. You are not always looking for suggestions, advice, a pat on the back. Sometimes all you want to do is share and hold space together. Or enjoy someone’s presence while you both go about different tasks in a small space, sit on the sofa and read etc.
Allowing that space, that flow and opening yourself to silent communication can be therapeutic, it’s powerful.
If this all sounds too far out for you, I’ll be sharing some tips in my next blog post on how to implement what you’ve learned above … in baby steps and without the need to take a vow of silence or be fluent in sign.
I’d love to hear your own experiences with non-verbal communication!