Actions and Words and Everything in Between

As a counselor in training I have been taught that how we say things is just as important as what we say. Can this be transcended outside of the therapy room, too? The short answer is yes, it most certainly can. However, people are not conscious of the way they communicate to each other. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? But the old saying of “think before you speak” has some real-life implications that many take for granted. Human beings can be very perceptive in just a short amount of time, quickly taking in the surrounding situations in order to analyze, interpret, and predict the next happenings. Thin-slicing, as it is commonly called, happens frequently. We make quick judgements when given just a “slice” of the entire picture. This can also be interpreted when you meet someone for the first time. That first impression that people get so worked up about is in fact a real thing to get worked up about. It can be hard to shake the way a person made you feel that first time you had an interaction with them, be it good or bad. knowing this, it is more than what you say and more about how you say it and present it that will leave a lasting impression on the other individual.

Your message can be understood differently without you even realizing it. The tone in your voice, the pitch you use with certain words, the posture you hold, everything can be fair game for the other person to thin-slice. This happens in every day life as much as it happens in a counseling session. So what are some helpful tips to put your best self forward and evoke a positive atmosphere? Here are just a few techniques you can begin to practice with:

  1. Know that the other person is just as nervous to make a good impression as you are. The best advice for someone interviewing for a new position is to remind them that they are there to interview and question the company too! Similarly in counseling, the initial interview is just as much a test of the client as it is of the counselor. Both parties are gauging the other on receptiveness, confidence, and understanding.
  2. Be aware of the other person’s body language. Easier said than done, for sure, but try to take a millisecond and do a quick inquiry of the other persons posture, eye contact, and fidgeting habits. Do they seem bored? Are they eager to hear more? This can help you determine how the conversation is going and which direction to take it next.
  3. Practice active listening. Yes, listening has an active component to it! Being engaged while the other person speaks can make a huge difference in the flow of conversation. Simple acts like head nods and quick affirming words like “yes!” and “really?” will show your commitment to the discussion.
  4. Be honest. It sounds like common sense, I know, but things can get carried away in the heat of conversation and how you portray yourself will be the lasting impression. Don’t make up happiness or success because believe it or not, the average Joe can see right through that.

There are definitely more tricks to the trade but a lot of them are contingent on the situation in which you’re put in. Many websites and articles say “be interested and interesting!”- well that isn’t always easy to do. Sometimes people are just damn boring and acting like you’re interested is just lying to them and to yourself. Now, I’m not saying you have to be completely 100% over the moon with people and agree with all of their ideas, values, and dreams, but if there isn’t a connection, you can’t pretend there’s one!

Overall, if you want to put your best self forward you have to do so eloquently and honestly. You need to be engaging and intentional with others and understand that how you say things can be used as the foundation for another persons impression of you. But remember, they’re just as nervous too!