In conflict resolution, nonverbal cues can be more important than verbal ones. When people are communicating ideas or concepts or facts, their words may be the most useful and effective way to understand each other and share information. But when the stakes are high, heightened emotions and strong opinions can lead to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and unproductive arguments. Consequently, nonverbal communication is often more useful in conflict resolution than in other types of discussion. A person’s nonverbal communication consists of all the things they say without words. Facial expressions, gestures with hands or arms, posture — all of these nonverbal cues can help you understand someone even if they don’t express themselves well verbally. Nonverbal communication is especially helpful in moments of conflict because it’s a crucial part of any conversation. Understanding what someone is trying to communicate not only helps you stay on track but also enables you to proceed with a productive resolution that takes everyone’s needs into account.
Be Aware of Body Language
When people are engaged in a conflict, their emotions are heightened and they may not be fully aware of or in control of their body language. As an observer, you can see the cues that people are not even aware they are sending. When people are feeling confident and in control, they will typically engage in open body language. Their hands may be on their hips or folded behind their backs. They may stand with their legs apart and their arms uncrossed. People who are engaged in intense discussions with others may also engage in open body language to show confidence and control. In fact, open body language may be especially useful in a heated discussion. However, when people feel threatened or anxious, it is common for their body language to shift to closed body language. When people are feeling this way, their arms are crossed in front of their bodies, their legs are crossed at the ankles, or they are standing with their legs crossed. They may also stand with their hands behind their backs. When people are engaged in an intense discussion and feel threatened, closed body language is a useful way to protect themselves.
Reading Facial Expressions
An important part of understanding the nonverbal communication of others is observing the expressions on their faces. When people are experiencing certain emotions, their facial expressions will display those feelings. If you are paying attention, you will notice these expressions and be able to interpret them. You can tell when someone is feeling defensive or aggressive if they have a scowl on their face. If they look sad or disappointed, you can conclude that they are feeling disappointed or sad. If they have a smile on their face, that smile may be genuine or it may be a fake smile. If you are not sure, you can ask them about it. When you are in a heated discussion, it is important to try to interpret the facial expressions of the people with whom you are talking. Doing so can help you understand where they are coming from and facilitate a better discussion.
Pay Attention to Voice
It is important to pay attention to other aspects of nonverbal communication, particularly the voice. Tone, volume, and rhythm all contribute to the way your voice sounds. How loudly or softly you speak, your rhythm, and the speed at which you talk can be just as important as the actual words you say. When you are in a heated discussion, you may be so focused on what you are saying that you don’t notice the rhythm and tone of another person’s voice. This is where you have to be especially aware of and attuned to the other person’s nonverbal communication.
Watch for Hand Moves
Not all the nonverbal communication of a heated discussion will occur with words. Some people may not be very good at expressing themselves verbally. When you get into a discussion with someone who does not communicate well with words, you may need to watch how they use their hands as they talk. For example, if you are arguing with someone who points with their fingers every time you make a point, you might interpret that as a defensive gesture, meaning they are feeling threatened by your point. In that case, you might want to soften your approach or use a different approach entirely. Similarly, if someone uses hand gestures to emphasize what they are saying, you can use those hand gestures to help you understand what they are communicating.
Knowing how to read and interpret other people’s nonverbal communication is essential in conflict resolution. You have to be aware of your own nonverbal communication as well as that of the people with whom you are discussing a conflict. Where a discussion is tense and feelings are elevated, people are more likely to rely on nonverbal communication to communicate. This means you have to be even more aware of what is happening nonverbally and make an effort to interpret and respond to it. When people are communicating ideas or concepts or facts, their words may be the most useful and effective way to understand each other and share information. But when the stakes are high, heightened emotions and strong opinions can lead to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and unproductive arguments. Consequently, nonverbal communication is often more useful in conflict resolution than in other types of discussion.