I know all about non-verbal communication. I have a teenager (only just). (And a dog, but I’ll come to that later). This is heavily influenced by the fact that teenagers and the adults who care for them are very different creatures and are at very different points in their lives. Understanding those differences will help open the lines of communication between you and the teen in your life. Hah, that’s what the books say. The truth…..is out there somewhere and it took me weeks to find it.
At this point in time, my son probably feels like we have nothing in common. Because all I get are grunts. Even my dog has more conversations with me. And I understand that more too. I think it was easier climbing Mt. Everest than it is to get a whole sentence out of my son. As it is we are a family who have substantial screen presence; in that, we communicate more with our respective computer screens than we do with each other. I used to worry about it a lot, but now I have given up. We are your average dysfunctional family – a dime a dozen now. I used to believe I was made for greater things, like finding a cure for common cold, but I am left over to battle smog, bickering father and son and aggressive leftovers. Maybe this is the new age, the one which I have long outgrown, so I look at my child hoping to catch a glimmer of recognition in his eyes, but I get a glazed look in response, because he is already thinking of his FB friends and the wonderfully surreal chats they will soon have. The only time he needs me is when he needs the door opened on coming back from school. My huge hug is returned with a perfunctory shrug-cum-brushing of shoulders. And whenever I ask him what he is doing, he says ‘nothing’, the quotes’ intentional. What does he want for dinner, ‘nothing’; I ask him what he is reading (I can see he has a book in his hands), ‘nothing’! But this blog is about communication, – or lack of it, in this case – so I will tell you this, the word ‘nothing’ means something totally different to a parent and to a child.
‘Nothing’ to me means you are staring into space, hands in your lap, and your breathing shallow. When a child is doing ‘nothing’, especially when they are very young, it usually means it is time to call the emergency services. So see, now I have learnt how to deal with it – I have learnt their style of communication. I usually wish to know whom they were doing ‘nothing’ with, where exactly they were doing ‘nothing’.
That is what communication is all about. Understanding and interpreting the differences in people. I can interpret shrugs, ‘whatever’ s, grunts and even his hunch when he is sad about something. An excellent experience for learning non-verbal communication is to teach it. I have a diploma in British Sign Language, which I learnt in the UK (what a surprise!). I was interested in it for no reason at all, but I was quite unprepared for what I experienced when I first went. The teacher did not say a thing in words, from the word go (pun very much intended). Through those first days of understanding nothing, we slowly began to understand what the signs meant and then began using them and in a month or so, we were quite able to come to grips with what was being taught.
I have noticed that in most cases, in fact in most communication, humor helps. But humor does not mean jokes. Humor is about understanding the differences in others and being comfortable with it. Your humor should not have to produce an on-demand response from your listeners. Self-deprecating humor works the best. I am telling you because I use it all the time – people warm up to you immediately. And once that is done, rest is easy.
Non-verbal communication. Anyone who has a dog knows what I am talking about. I get up around 6.00, even though my alarm is set for 6.30 – I like the feeling of staying in bed that extra half-hour. I always think that if the good lord wanted me to wake up in the morning, I would have been born as a rooster. My dog, sleeping on his cushion beside the bed, sees me wake up, but keeps looking. And then when my alarm goes off, he immediately jumps up and starts licking me up, giving me the dog-saliva-facial that is the reason behind my glowing skin, as those of you who have seen me know. He needs to go out and that is his way of saying it. If I ignore him he will flap his front paw on my hands till I grudgingly get up and take him downstairs for his walk. Once out, I understand immediately when he is seen something, usually another dog braver than him. His body stiffens and he looks pleadingly at me. He needs to now run back home.
If left alone, – and this little spaniel has no idea about Einstein or of relativity, – I think after about an hour of staying alone, it all becomes a blur to him. Which works fine – because at times I do need to leave him at home and go to work, or to do stuff. But when I get back, his tail, – no, his entire backside – wags with a speed which if properly harnessed could be used for irrigation and could seriously compete with the windmills of Holland. When he is sulking, his eyes turn this special shape and I know exactly what he wants to say – he needs attention. Some cuddles and he is fine again.
So as I was saying, – non-verbal communication is mostly what communication is all about. Which should put all at ease, because in the end, language is meant to bind, not to distance people, it is just a way to prove to Darwin (wherever he is, God rest his soul) that what we bark has meaning, that we are more evolved and apart from the opposing thumb, this is another key differentiator.