23/01/2013 12:25 GMT | Updated 24/03/2013 05:12 GMT

Verbal And Non-Verbal Communication - Impact on Relationships

We've all heard the statistics several times before, that body language accounts for more than 50% of our communication. It is fair to say that both verbal and non-verbal communication impact on the success of our relationships.

For a start, if you want to communicate sincerely then your verbal and non-verbal communications have to be congruent with one another. In other words, you cannot growl "I love you" whilst standing arms crossed and eyes rolling. Inversely, you cannot stand with arms open as if inviting a hug as the words "I'm finding you insufferable lately" leave your lips. Well you can do all of the above if you are merely indulging in a spot of humorous sarcasm but if you are not saying or doing any of the above in jest then the mixed message will leave the recipient feeling unsure of where you both stand.

Spencer Kelly (2006), Associate Professor of Psychology at Colgate University, measured peaks and valleys in the brain waves of participants to understand whether body language that is inconsistent with the accompanying verbal communication is picked up by the brain.

To test the way the brain processes verbal and non-verbal communication, brain waves were monitored with the use of an electroencephalograph.

Kelly found that if a participant had to process a sentence with an inappropriate word such as, "He spread his toast with socks", the brain waves would create a valley (a downward dip) on the graph as a result. The dip was classified as N400 in measurement. The researcher found that if a speaker's gestures and verbal communication were incongruent (inconsistent with one another) then the same size valley of N400 was produced by the brain waves. For example, if the speaker uttered a word such as "tall" but at the same time conveyed "short" with his gestures (non-verbal communication), then the participant's brain would pick up on the inconsistency between the verbal and non-verbal communication. This was demonstrated by the same size valley recorded by the electroencephalograph.

Therefore, the study indicates that the brain processes verbal and non-verbal communication simultaneously and does notice, albeit sometimes on a subconscious level, when there is a mismatch between the spoken word and the body language accompanying it. Could this be a reason you are not currently getting on well with your family member, friend or partner?

When you struggle to communicate with ease with a person you care for it can be extremely stressful. Those thoughts of why you can't have a conversation together without arguing, pop into mind. You wonder where it's all going wrong. Why you can't stop bickering. Why he takes everything you say in the wrong way. Why she doesn't realise you're just trying to help.

When you step back from the situation you can begin to wonder whether it is you that's starting the arguments or them. If you are experiencing this with a few individuals then it is likely that the fault lies with you as you are the common denominator in those relationships. If it is only happening with one person then the answer becomes less clear.

The bottom line is you want to resolve it. You may well be the innocent party far more than the creator of the conflict but the fact is that you can only change how you are functioning within the given relationship. Therefore, that is where you look to make a change or maybe just some tweaks.

Key questions about your communication

  • Do your verbal and non-verbal communication match or are they incongruent, i.e. giving two different messages?
  • Do you think you are being pleasant when you're body language is conveying that you are not? Be honest.
  • Is your aggressive non-verbal communication, via your eyes, posture, arms, hands and feet, giving the other person reasons to argue with you?
  • How would you react if someone spoke to you in the way that you are speaking to them, verbally and nonverbally?

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