It's a common belief that communication is a choice and that, through our words, we choose to share our thoughts and our emotions. Picture for a minute a room full of people: it's a party and everyone looks animated and like they are enjoying themselves. In a corner, a man is standing with his back against the wall, arms crossed, a frown on his face and his mouth in a tight smile. What this man is doing, maybe without realising it, is to communicate how he feels: he doesn't want to be there; he is not enjoying the atmosphere. This example shows that communication goes well beyond what we say. Our body language, the tone of voice, our facial expression are often the best indicators of our emotions. Research shows that only around seven percent of all communication is verbal!
Quite a lot of communication is carried out below the level of consciousness and happens automatically. We can choose to lie through the words that we use; it's much harder to lie with our body language. Just imagine that a family member announces a decision that you don't agree with. You may choose not to openly criticise them but chances are that they will “sense” your disapproval. This is not just instinct on their part. You are likely to be sending out important automatic signals of disapproval: it could be the expression on your face or even your decision not to comment when others are voicing their approval.
Many misunderstandings are caused by body language which does not match what we actually say. In the first example, the man may well have said he was glad to be at the party but his body language tells us another story.
It is not uncommon for couples to argue about non-verbal messages such as the tone of voice or facial expression rather than the actual words used. This is because our brain picks up on all the different messages conveyed and any contradiction between words and non-verbal communication. Effective communication and a reduction in misunderstandings is only achieved when what we say is backed up by our body language. By definition this requires us to be in touch with our emotions and what we are prepared to share with others.