I was walking in the city with a couple of friends when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a young girl coming out of a store. I told my friends to wait a minute as I doubled back. I recognized the look of panic on her face and knew she had gotten separated from her family. So I approached her and asked if she needed help. She said, "I don't know where my mother is." She started to walk away, but I told her to stay put. I explained that her mother would come looking for her and that she should be near the store they were just in. I asked her if she knew her mother's cell phone number and I would call her. Unfortunately, the number was for another country, and the call would not go through, so we waited. Fifteen minutes later, a furious-looking woman finally marched up and started yelling at her daughter for not keeping up with her. She never looked at me or my friends, but we were glad that the two had been reunited.
My friends asked me how I knew the little girl had gotten lost. "Do you have some kind of psychic power we don't know about?" I told them that I could read her face and body language. The look of fear was written all over her. I knew her instinct would be to quickly walk or run in any direction in hopes of finding her mother. The best plan would be to stay with her in one place until her mother realized her daughter was missing.
Successful communication is more than just being able to speak well. It's about paying attention to the person or group in front of you. It's watching for signs of interest, boredom, or confusion so you can adjust your dialogue. It's noticing if someone is leaning in or looking at the clock on the wall. It's about reading the room to tell if your message is landing with impact or failing to elicit a response. Our non-verbal cues speak volumes if we pay attention to them.
When I worked in sales and visited an account, I would first notice how my buyer looked. Were they tired, frustrated, annoyed, or in a happy mood? If I saw a frazzled look, I would ask if they would like to reschedule. They always appreciated that I would give them that option. Of course, they also wanted to know if I had psychic powers. Everyone thinks they're good at hiding their feelings, and I guess they are until someone makes an effort to be aware of them.
It's easy to take your friend's word when they tell you they're okay, and you don't inquire further. But, if you see their smile slip away quickly and their eyes are down, you may want to ask again. There's a chance that your friend wants to talk and hopes you'll listen. I'm not telling anyone to be pushy or nosy but recognize when someone may need to open up to you. Relationships are built on empathy and compassion for each other, so we need to listen to not only what someone is saying but how their words match their body language. My only problem is that no one wants to play poker with me.