Nonverbal Cues You Are Missing, According to Sign Language Users

BY Jessica Helinski
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Many people don’t think twice about body language. But for others, it’s vital to communication. Users of American Sign Language (ASL) rely heavily on others’ movements and expressions to understand what is being said and expressed. Fast Company’s Vivan Giang recently featured three women proficient in ASL and shared their discussion of how nonverbal cues can actually be louder than the words being said. Specifically, Laurie Achin, Katie Fitzpatrick and Miriam Horwitz discuss which cues people are usually missing during conversations.

Become A "Backchannel" Expert

They point out that deaf people are much better at picking up on “backchannel” than those who can hear. Backchannel is the term linguists apply to the “mmmhmm‑s” and “uh huh‑s” that we typically use to convey understanding. For those who are deaf, these backchannels are critical in communication because they are unable to hear words. But, as the article points out, “hearing people don’t think about how important backchannels are so much because we assume the other person understood us because they heard us, despite language being inherently vague.” You may not always hear correctly. Or, you may be in a virtual meeting, where ideas often get lost in translation due to technology. Being proficient in backchannel reading will help improve your communications. Keep an eye out for others’ nonverbal cues, like head nods, to confirm they are hearing and understanding you.

Keep An Eye Out For Restlessness

When speaking, many also don’t get the nonverbal message that the other person wants to speak. “Achin says that when someone is trying to speak up or interrupt the current speaker, they’ll become restless in their chair,” the articles shares. “They may push forward in their body movements and sit up higher in order to get the attention of the current speaker.” Whether you’re in a one-​on-​one meeting or leading a presentation, observe the other person and watch for these signs. Make efforts to track movements in your peripheral vision as well. This is especially important in meetings. As the article points out, “When leading a meeting, it’s easy to fall prey to tunnel vision. But, we can all pick up on a lot more, especially the people trying to interject or make additions, if we scan the room and make sure we’re seeing everyone in our peripheral vision.”

These are just two commonly missed cues the women discuss, and their unique insights into communication are a must-​read for sales reps. Improving communication should always be a goal for salespeople, and their perspective stresses the importance of nonverbal cues.