I want to say a huge thank you to all who commented, made suggestions and helped me to choose my new blog name. You were super helpful and really kind, taking time to read my post, checking out my ideas and coming up with lots of your own.
My initial favourite blog name was Mental Health from all sidesand some of you agreed, so I’m going to use that as part of my tagline.
However, when Sadagopan at Pointless & Prosaic came up with Mental Health 360°, it made sense to me, with several of you in agreement. So there we have it.
Now all I need, and I’m going to be really cheeky here, is to ask if you would help spread the news through any of the social media channels you use? I’d really appreciate you helping me promote my new blog name in any way possible.
Thank you also for your thoughtful comments about my content and for now, I will continue along the same lines. However, along the way, I’m happy to have any more suggestions about what you’d like to read on my blog.
My last few posts have been about Communication skills in various forms, something you might find helpful in any situation:
Following my previous post on How and when to say sorry (here), a fellow-blogger friend commented “I’m not guilt free and I try to apologize when I realize I’ve misstepped. Problematic for me with my lacking social skills is I am not always quick on the uptake to recognize a social faux paux.” Great timing Nikki — now I get to expand on the title of another post “Never miss important social cues again” stored like, forever, in my bulging draft folder.
What are social cues?
Social cues can be either verbal or nonverbal hints which can be positive or negative, (Wikipedia). These cues guide social and other interactions and let us know that the other person or a group is not interested in our conversation. These cues can tell us that someone feels offended by what we’ve said or perhaps they’re really excited by our explanation. Social cues can include:
facial expression — without a doubt, the most telling—and common—nonverbal means of communication is through facial expressions like eye rolling, downturned lips, flared nostrils, looking bored, showing disgust, fear, animosity or we might be smiling and showing approval. However, we’ve all seen a fake smile — that one that doesn’t reach the eyes 😉
body posture — is critical in making a strong impression. How we sit or stand is important in how we’re seen by others. Slouched or facing the floor might display indifference, uncertainty, or even weakness while, conversely back straight and head held high exudes confidence, assurance, and strength. However, we’ve all seen soldiers on parade – exuding confidence and assurance? when they’re actually terrified of their Sergeant screaming in their face.
speech isn’t just what we say, but also how we say it, using inflection, pitch, tempo (controlling speed of speech) and tone of voice to convey anger like shouting. Also included here might be huffs, puffs, tutting and heavy sighs. There isn’t a teenager, uh — anywhere who hasn’t done this.
proximity — how close or far away we are from a person. Someone might step back from us if they’re afraid or if they’re standing close or leaning in, it might be because they’re interested in what we’re saying. We all have our own ‘intimate space’ and we’re choosy who we let in there. Have you ever thought — “get out of my personal space!”
gestures — are used to communicate important messages, either in place of speech or together, in parallel with spoken words. Remember though, that gestures are culturally specific and can have very different meanings in different cultural or social settings. For instance, in Brazil, Germany, Russia, and many other countries around the world, the OKsign is a very offensive gesture because it is used to depict a private bodily orifice. So when it comes to gestures, the wisest advice might be to keep your fingers to yourself! (Huffpost.com, 2013). In the UK, we all know someone who talks with their hands. Then there’s pointing or arms crossed looking impatient or hostile. There’s also the kids foot-stomping, which most of us have seen at some point.
body language – we shake our head, clench our fists, stare out the window, turn away from our speaker perhaps showing disinterest — say in school, university or meetings, and even with stroppy teenagers.
physiological changes are often the most associated with discomfort, shyness and anxiety, for example blushing, flushing, shaky hands or sweating are a giveaway that someone’s ill-at-ease. If you’ve ever had to give a presentation at work, you’re probably familiar with some of these social cues.
Nonverbal cues speak the loudest
In a previous post ‘How to improve your verbal communication skills’ (here), you may remember that a huge 65% of our communication skills are nonverbal.
Therefore, it’s not only important to be aware of what someone says, but we desperately need to be aware of how they say it too. The trick here is to remember — nonverbal (body language) cues actually speakthe loudest.
This might appear odd because it seems glaringly obvious, but it isn’t, not to some. In fact, we’ve all missed cues at some point. For example, in the midst of an argument we probably missed the process of what’s going on around us and stormed ahead no matter the other person’s response. We’ve not registered their shock, surprise, horror or utter silence. We’ve missed their cues to either pull back or stop.
Nonverbal cues occur instinctively
Now we understand that body language is the use of expressions, proximity, mannerisms, physical behaviour to communicate nonverbally, did you know:
nonverbal communication occurs instinctively rather than consciously (but it can be learnt)
that whether you’re aware of it or not, when we interact with others, we continuously give and receive wordless cues
these messages don’t stop when we stop talking either
even if we’re silent, we’re still communicating nonverbally
All of our subconscious nonverbal actions send powerful messages to others, which can build trust, put people at ease and draw them to us, or we might confuse, offend and undermine what it is we want to convey.
In the absence of reliable information about a person, all we really have is the nonverbal cues which offer a look into their likely behaviours or actions.
Social and nonverbal cues in action
For example, at work in my role as a mental health nurse, our Rapid Response Team (RRT – a team of around 6-8 mainly large male nurses who would attend to a ward when they had an aggressive or violent patient) instinctively all stood tall, heads back and arms crossed, staring at the said patient.
Unfortunately, our RRT’s nonverbal communication was intimidating to the patients at best and threatening or provoking at worst. The patient didn’t know these men — with their threatening body language — or that they were there to help — so it didn’t inspire trust in the patient. In fact it often made the patient want to lash out, either in fear or sometimes in defiance. Staff were missing social cues these presented by the patient.
Therefore the RRT first had to be made aware of their how their nonverbal communication appeared. This was done during the debriefing meetings following an incident where it was fed back that their posture was inappropriate and unacceptable.
Secondly, the Control & Restraint Department (responsible for the RRT’s training) was informed of how this practice was coming across on the wards. Staff went on refresher courses where they carried out mock incidents, using a more relaxed posture when approaching patients.
Effective nonverbal communication can be learnt
Okay, so while it’s said that nonverbal communication is spontaneous and generally can’t be faked — it can be taught and learnt, as above.
To enable us to develop and maintain successful/good relationships, it’s not only crucial that we have good speaking skills, but also a clear understanding of the nonverbal cues that accompany conversation. It goes without saying that we need to be aware of how we ourselves come across to others.
Having an awareness or even a control of your own nonverbal communication could prove advantageous in a business or work environment and certainly if you’re working with the public. This awareness is definitely beneficial if you have difficulties within your personal and family relationships.
If you’re worried you’re missing social cues, ask someone you trust and respect to give you honest constructive feedback on whether you’ve been able to read their nonverbal hints appropriately.
Watch films or tv programmes, paying particular interest in the nonverbal communication that occurs between two people or groups of people. See which of the above and how many cues you can identify.
Notice how they express friendliness and positivity by maintaining an open posture. See how they stand with their legs hip-distance apart and keep their torso exposed as opposed to covered with crossed arms, keeping their head raised and relaxing their facial expression.
Being aware of nonverbal communication
If you recognize that a colleague, friend or family member you’re speaking to has a case of the jitters and they’re struggling to make themselves clear, try to make them feel at ease. Let them have some time and don’t interrupt until after they’ve finished speaking.
If someone’s raising their voice at you, take a step back and with your arms out, palms down and say calmly, quietly and firmly, “Please, don’t raise your voice to me.”
You could go on further “I can’t hear” or “I can’t understand what you’re saying when you’re shouting at me.” When they do stop shouting, and they will — they’ll be shocked by your actions — you can ask them to repeat what they were saying.
If someone does continue to shout or rant, repeat the nonverbal cues and tell them – you are going to walk away (and do it, whether it’s to another room, the bathroom).
Don’t be afraid of asserting yourself, calmy, quietly and firmly to say “You’re scaring me.”, “It makes me feel ………… when you shout at me.” No one can argue with your feelings; their yours and you own them.
Watch out for the other person’s nonverbal cues to gauge the situation. This will give you clues as to whether they want to continue in this vein or whether they’re calming down, willing to listen to you.
If you’re still struggling with communications skills, these posts might help:
You ever had that “Ah! When and how do I say sorry” moment?
We’ve all had a bad day at the office, on the shop floor or the ward, sometimes with the kids or the family, or that insensitive friend, when we just want to take someone’s head off their shoulders. Yes?
I’m guessing you didn’t literally take anyone’s head off, but maybe you raised your voice, hurled some insults, gave some dirty looks, tuts and sighs? Perhaps you stomped around, bashed your laptop shut, slammed a few drawers or doors for effect? Once you’d taken a few deep breaths, had a cup of tea or a glass of wine, slumped into your car seat or relaxed in a warm bath, you calmed down.
Then it’s Ah!When and how do I say sorry? Let’s find out more:
Insincere or unnecessary apologising
The Guardian (2019) said “In Britain, we over-apologise out of politeness.” and we do. It comes easily. But some apologies are totally unnecessary and often insincere i.e. we say sorry when someone bumps into us or we say to our waiter “I’m sorry, but my food is cold.” We call work and say “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel well.”
Constant apologies, particularly at work might undermine someone’s confidence in you; in a meeting you say “Sorry, I’d like to interrupt you.” Why apologise? Or when you have to deliver an important but boring directive to your team i.e. “Sorry, but we have to complete audits by……….” Just tell them the message “We have the annual audits to be completed by…….”, which sounds way more confident and you needn’t be sorry about directives from someone or somewhere else.
Some people just apologise to relieve their own guilt or shame at the way they behaved and are not necessarily genuinely upset by the hurt they caused the other party. Others might apologise to escape punishment like someone in court hoping to get a lesser penalty.
Even our politicians and world leaders apologies are carefully worded and often insincere. They’re seen only to be protecting their image rather than concern about their message.
A genuine apology
It’s generally more difficult to say sorry when you actually have something to apologise for. Psychology Today (2016) said “A genuine apology offered and accepted is one of the most profound interactions of civilized people. It has the power to restore damaged relationships, be they on a small scale, between two people, such as intimates, or on a grand scale, between groups of people, even nations. If done correctly, an apology can heal humiliation and generate forgiveness.”
When to say sorry
Immediately, if possible but at least at the earliest opportunity. It’s unfair on the other person or group of people and it only drags out your ensuing feelings of possibly anxiety or upset at causing hurt in someone you care about or respect.
When it’s your fault. Sometimes if you really have done something wrong, it truly needs an apology. And in those situations, by all means, take responsibility! Own it!
Evoking tears or other distress in others tells us that we’ve overstepped the boundaries of what’s acceptable to the injured party. If it’s a friend, someone else we care about or respect, we don’t want to alienate them, lose their friendship, end the relationship or lose respect at work. We know we have to come up with some kind of apology to repair the damage and get the unpleasant matter behind us all.
I think we’re all aware how maddening it is, not to get an apology from someone who’s hurt us.
How to say sorry
Show genuine remorse over your actions by, and this is important, telling them first “I apologise” or I’m sorry”.
Genuinely and freely, not waiting to be asked; recognising the damage/hurt you’ve caused. You might say something like “I’m really sorry I said/did that. I can see how hurt/upset you are.” or “I apologise for hurting your feelings and I want to fix this.”
Show and sound like you mean it – your body movement, your eyes, your hands, your tone of voice. You need to show the other person that you really do understand and care about their feelings and their experience of what happened. Ask them their take on the situation and how it made them feel.
Take responsibility for your words, actions or behaviour – admit that you were rude, wrong, ignorant or downright spiteful
Repair the damage – make amends. Tell them how you’re going to fix things “I’ve heard and understand what you’ve said and I’ll make changes for the future.” Ask how them how to, if necessary “What can I do to make it right/better/change things?”
Promise that it won’t happen again and you need to keep this promise. The definition of a promise “a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified.” Make the promise concrete and you’re sure you can commit to the action or expectation.
How not to say sorry
“I’ve already said sorry.” or “You know I’m sorry.” or “My dad said I had to say sorry, so……….” These kinds of apologies just cheapen whatever follows and if someone tells you to apologise, you’re giving their apology, not yours.
Don’t make excuses for your behaviour/words – “I was only trying to tell you…….”
Don’t try to justify your words/behaviours – “I was just trying to help you.” and “I was just playing devil’s advocate.” “I was just joking.” You’re trying to tell them that how they felt wasn’t important cos ‘it was just for fun.’ Really? Because, it obviously wasn’t fun for the hurt person.
Don’t use the “you know” kind of apologies like “Oh you know I’m like a bull in a china shop.” or “you know I forget sometimes.” You’re trying to belittle their hurt or their experience as though they shouldn’t be upset.
The same goes for “I Know” apologies like “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t have……” It’s like “Well, why did you then?” and you’re not really owning up to the damage you’ve caused to the other person.
Bullying apologies are dreadful too, like “Okay, I get it – sorry!” and “Drop it now, it’s done – sorry!” or “Sorrrry – duh!” with the eyeroll.
I’m sure there are many more ways to apologise or ways of how not to apologise. I hope some of these points help and I’m open to more suggestions or your comments. What was the last insincere apology you gave or received?