Communicating When You Aren’t Talking

A highway with traffic and traffic signs

We live in a politically correct world—or at the very least a world that punishes people when they get caught speaking in terms that aren’t politically correct. But we still haven’t caught on to the idea that we have options with our body language. I made a turn onto a main road the other day when an aggressive driver cut into my lane. I hit the horn to make sure he saw me and didn’t hit me. He responded by giving me the finger.

Think about it. He was totally at fault. I let him know it and he gave me the finger. You wouldn’t do that at work or in a client presentation. If you had misspelled a word on a PowerPoint slide and your client pointed it out to you, would you give the client the finger? Probably not.

People seem to forget that we all communicate even when we aren’t talking.

I have found it far more effect to wave and smile at the people who give me the finger on the road. It usually confuses the other person. They want you engage so they can out angry you. Exchanging finger for finger can escalate pretty quickly into road rage. But is that really the message anyone wants to send?

I have a theory that most people aren’t really jackasses. They just act like it because they don’t realize their body language shouts and screams. And not just on the highway. In the boardroom, in front of the room, in TV interviews your body language broadcasts a strong message. If you don’t know what you want that message to be, then you can lose control of your message very quickly. And the resulting impression will—like giving someone the finger on the road—be far, far removed from anything you would really want people to remember about you.

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