I confess. I do not have a “poker face”. My friends often describe me as “wearing my heart on my sleeve.” The younger generation, namely my daughter, affectionately refers to a certain look as my “bitch face”. If you see me wearing such a face, no matter what words are coming out of my mouth, your attention will be drawn to “the darts shooting out of my eyes” and you may begin to tremble.
Just look at all the colloquialisms in the previous paragraph that describe how much body language and facial expressions communicate. Expressions like “poker face” “wearing my heart on my sleeve” and yes even “resting bitch face” are all phrases that point to where most communication occurs and it has very little to do with words.
Communication is like a dance and like dancers, our posture and physical movements convey our meaning. If I am trying to drum up enthusiasm for a topic that I personally find boring, you may detect this in my slumped posture, blank stare, and neutral facial expressions. Picking up on this, you will lose interest in my topic quickly. But if I am passionate about my topic, I will become animated, smile, use gestures to emphasize points naturally and I will look at you with sincerity. Now you are interested because my body language has invited you to dance to the music of my topic.
Accomplished actors who can afford to be choosy with their roles know this. It is much easier to have a stellar performance portraying a character of interest than it is to act merely for a paycheck. The latter usually results in poor acting jeopardizing future roles.
Honoring Your Voice is about coming into the full expression of your authentic self. This makes “faking it” increasingly difficult if not impossible. I find that I have stopped saying what is expected or what others want to hear because my non-verbal cues will give me away. In doing so, I have learned to discern if it is best to say nothing or to speak truthfully about the way I feel. It’s risky because I know that what I have to say often is not what my listener wants to hear. But sometimes it has to be said and in those moments my words and body language will be aligned and this is powerful! My sincerity will not be called into question.
Dr. Albert Mehrabian, the author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc). I have spoken about addressing vocal elements in previous posts but even with appropriate vocal elements, your message will miss the mark if you are not aware that your face and body are saying something different from the words that are coming out of your mouth. Often my clients have enthusiasm about a certain topic but lack the self-confidence to convey this by empowering their message with these non-verbal elements. They benefit from a few communicative dancing lessons.
I often work with my clients in front of a mirror so they can check in with their posture and facial expressions as they speak. I also video record them so they can become aware of their expressions and posture to see if these match their communicative intention. If not, they can make physical adjustments until the verbal and non-verbal aspects of their message are aligned. After this, the intent of the message will be loud and clear and without shouting.
Are you often surprised that you are misinterpreted or misunderstood when you speak? If so, your words may not be coinciding with your facial expressions and body language. They may be revealing that you are not honoring your voice.
Kristina Kelly is a speech therapist in Asheville, NC who specializes in voice therapy and voice coaching.