What Happens When You Apply Non-Verbal Communication Skills in a Haunted House?

This past weekend I took my nerd status to a spooky new level. I was persuaded into bringing my younger step-brother to our town’s scariest haunted house. Allow me to make this clear straight away, I do not like Halloween or scary movies. I’ve always held this idea that there is enough true horror in the world, why add more into my life by watching a scene of actors doing their best to imitate gore? However, my step-brother was so excited that I couldn’t say no.

When I was on line I thought about quitting and making him go alone, but there was an actual “quitter count” of people who asked to leave before entering and I didn’t want to be a part of that statistic. That’s when I started to think about how I could make the experience more interesting and less painful.

Throughout various leadership and interpersonal communication classes I have taken at the University of Delaware, we have learned the attributes of what makes one appear to be a strong leader. This includes actions like eye contact, smiling, acting tall and taking up space. What would happen if I applied these characteristics of leadership in a place where workers thrive on submission to fear? I decided to make a game out of it and put these attributes to the test.

Even though I was frightened out of my mind I entered the haunted house pretending like I was walking through an office… and a funny thing happened. All of the volunteers in their scary costumes ignored me. They took the cues from my non-verbals as confidence and moved on to the other adults. I couldn’t believe that just my posture and facial expression was enough to trick others. Actually, I was getting ignored so ferociously that I truly started to laugh and things that previously have frightened me weren’t scary anymore.

When volunteers who were dressed up did approach me, instead of focusing on the shock value of their outfits I analyzed their posture and made intense eye contact. I am not kidding when I say my appearance of a lack of fear actually had a worker my age so impressed that he broke character to ask me for my number (I politely declined, he was covered in fake blood and had a mask on- no thanks.)

Although this all seems like common sense, it made me start to question the way I live my life. In every communication interaction we both produce and pick up on non-verbal behavior subconsciously. But what would happen if we focused ourselves to be more aware of this behavior? Would we have more control over situations and power in conversations if we went into them looking for specific non-verbals? Could we use it for our advantage like I did in the haunted house?

Almost everyone naturally picks up on the basics like tone of voice and facial expressions, but what about kinetics and proxemics? Especially as a female, we are often instructed that the social “norm” for us is to not talk too loud or take up space. Millennials, my friends included, are getting worse and worse at eye contact and constructive listening. This haunted house experience proved to me that you can be more powerful than you imagine if you take control of the non-verbal messages you put out.

Even if you don’t have it all together, you can trick others into thinking you do. In addition, when you focus on others who seem to “have it down” you can begin to notice that it is their non-verbals that help it to seem as such. So today when you’re walking down the street, think of me and my nerdy rant and harness your non-verbals. Act like the powerful, confident person you are working so hard to be.

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