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The Avenues of Communication: Words, Gestures & Spirit

Posted 6 years ago

Communication is at the very heart of who we are and what we do.  It’s not uncommon to find a tremendous talent who’s potential was not met because he/she ignored the importance of their communication skills.  Likewise, careers are often accelerated for those who have worked to develop these skills.  Nobody knows this better than behavioral analyst Steven Sisler who has worked with clients in more than 18 countries.  Today’s blog is excerpted from Steven’s upcoming book, The Four People Types, in which he previews the three fundamental avenues of communication.

The Avenues of Communication: Words, Gestures & Spirit

by Steven Sisler

We communicate through three fundamental avenues—words, gestures and spirit. All of these are observable in one form or another.

Our words are observable through the listening process, by the person who listens. Words have two possible outcomes when received by another. These words can either give life (or emotional health) or take it. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a killer word knows this to be true. “Stupid,” “moron,” “idiot” and the like are all killer words. Accompanied by a spirit of hurt with macabre gestures, these words do their job quite well.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This is one of the biggest lies ever placed on children. Words do hurt. Like emptying a pillow of feathers into the wind, it’s impossible to gather them back. The great King Solomon said, a word not fitly spoken can be like stealing a person’s coat in the dead of winter or pouring vinegar into an open wound.

Those who have the welfare of others in mind will find ways to maximize words that build while minimizing words that destroy. When we speak words in the spirit of healing with accompanying gestures, they build up and make people alive. Ask any child who has been beaten down by cruel words and gestures how things are going. Look into their eyes, and you can often see the pain. Because we are communicating all the time, it becomes imperative to not only be aware of what we are saying, but also how we are saying it.

Gestures are actions that communicate negative and positive signs. When a person smiles, it can be a positive sign that can brighten another’s day and give them strength to move ahead. A wink, a nod or any small token gesture can be the turning point in someone’s life. We must be aware of the impact that gestures make in the communication process. The lack of gesture can leave many people in the dark. People instinctively look for signs of approval by observing gestures. This is how children learn before they actually understand language.

The negative is true as well. Slamming doors and heavy breathing can be simple signs that we have not forgiven, nor have we forgotten, what someone has done to us. Our negative signs are communicating the fact that we are holding another in the prison of our inconvenience and dissatisfaction.

Many years ago my daughter (who was about 4 years old at the time) violated the rule of leaving the designated boundary line that surrounded our home. This boundary had been effectively communicated by us and was understood by her. Unfortunately, her love for animals helped her over our safety net on that particular day. She had followed a neighborhood dog out of the yard and across several streets as well as negotiating an empty swimming pool. You can imagine the horror her mother and I experienced once we discovered her missing.

During the disciplinary moment, I explained the situation as it stood and allowed her to choose which disciplinary action we would employ. Her choices were either no date with dad that night or a light spanking on the bum. She just looked up at me and started to cry. When I asked her why she was crying, she proceeded to tell me that she only had one option—the spanking. She just could not miss the date with dad.

After the spanking was over, I picked her up in my arms and held her tight against my chest, assuring her of my love. It was then that we went out for our date and I never brought up the incident again—ever. I didn’t hold her hostage to the former violation by giving her subtle behavioral clues conveying my ongoing disappointments. Our daughter never left the yard again. Many people hold obvious grudges against their children for inconveniencing them and create unwarranted tensions a child should not have to shoulder. This is what self-interested people do as a rule.

Communicating through spirit is a bit more illusive, but it’s the most powerful of the three fundamental avenues of communication. I once heard a story of a boy who was diagnosed with a mental disorder and was subsequently sent to a psychologist for evaluation. The doctor interviewed the boy’s mother, as well as the boy himself. After a week of institutionalization and evaluation, the boy’s mother was asked to come take him home. When she walked into the room to receive her son, he cowered into the arms of the doctor.

The doctor was surprised because the boy’s mother was smiling and seemed excited to receive her child back. When the doctor asked the boy why he was afraid, he replied, “She’s happy with her face but she is mad in her eyes.” The boy knew he was headed back to a dysfunctional environment and his mother’s spirit (attitude) revealed it. If you want to improve your communication, you don’t start with your mouth—you start with your body language. Words make up about 7 percent of our communication leaving the rest to observable indicators. Always remember, being mindful of what others are “seeing” when you are communicating will ensure a better relationship with those whom you find difficult.


Steven SislerSteven Sisler is a behavioral profiler and the lead analyst for The Behavioral Resource Group. His consultations include personality difference, leadership strategy, cultural difference, spiritual growth, and temperament strategy. Working with clients in more than 18 nations, Steve gathers behavioral and attitudinal information on individuals within corporate and personal settings to develops strategies for effective leadership, teamwork and entrepreneurial success.
Steven is also the author of six books, including his upcoming The Four People Types.
Steven frequently lectures on the subjects of Communication, The Emotional Framework, The Power of Imperfection, Post-Modern Influence, Attitudes & Values, Spiritual Difference, Leadership & Self-Understanding, Behavioral Language, Personality Difference, and the Maven Way of Management.