Ministers tend to specialize in verbal communication, but, in public opinion surveys, clergy don’t rank very high in perceived honesty or integrity. Why? Well, words alone carry the weakest part of our messages. Research tells us that more than 90% of the impact we make is based on the NONVERBAL area of communication – Our facial expressions, gesturing, physiology, posture, voice tone, pitch and rate of speed (words per minute). The actual words that we use represent merely 10% of the impression we make on those we encounter.
No matter how well we verbalize things, if our body language is sending a different message, we’ll be perceived as being insincere. The person may not know specifically what it is about you that leaves him unconvinced, but he can say that there is something about you that just doesn’t “ring true” or that you somehow don’t seem real. This only happens when what you were saying and what you were showing were two different things. In other words, a silent film of you would have sent a totally different message than an audiocassette would have. Your words are sending one message while your face and body are sending a different one.
The simplest way to get control of a situation like this is to make sure you NEVER say anything that your body is going to contradict. Don’t say anything that you don’t fully believe. What are some ways your body can signal that you’re sincere? First, look at the eyes. Looking someone in the eye while you talk doesn’t signal that you are free of pretense. True, avoiding eye contact sends a negative message but a study showed that both men and women tend to keep steady eye contact when lying. The difference is that men, when lying, will tend to maintain eye contact for a second or two longer after the lie was said.
Beware of the message that’s sent by your brow area. When you’re talking about peace and harmony while scowling, you’ll be unconvincing to all but the blind members of your congregation. A knitted brow can completely undo whatever it is your mouth is saying about tranquility and positive feelings. A genuine smile includes the eyes. When you smile, smile with your eyes. When you smile, smile with your eyes. Let them crinkle around the edges and hold the smile longer than just when you’re saying something pleasant. A forced smile is with the mouth only and fades quickly. A real smile includes the eyes and fades gradually.
Then there’s the voice. If the words are right and the voice is out of sync, you’ll come off as being phony. If you say, “I truly feel very deeply the hurt that you and your family are experiencing,” and your voice is nearly flat, you’ll seem to fake. Or, if you say, “Congratulations! I’m so excited for you getting the raise you’ve been wanting!” If you say that slowly and unexcited, you’ll again come across as being pretentious. Make sure your voice is transmitting the same message as your words. If you’re doing it right, someone who doesn’t understand English will be able to hear you and get the gist of your message by your tone, pitch and speed.
What about your hands? Psalms up and open gesturing will send a more positive and peaceful message. One major difference between black communicators and white ones is that, black communicators often use more open gestures and show the palm more often. This is one reason why many African Americans tend to mistrust white ministers when they first meet them. If we preach and communicate without showing our palms and keeping our gestures close to our bodies, we’ll be sending the message to at least part of our congregation that we aren’t completely trustworthy.
Learn to smile from the heart. It’ll help people to feel that you’re able to “connect” with them. It’ll also help YOU to feel better. Remember people’s names and USE them frequently in conversation. This sends the message that you know them and acre about them and that’s what’ll build credibility for you in their eyes. Maintain comfortable eye contact. Many in the ministry tend to be a little shy in one on one situations so they tend to frequently look down or away in order to avoid direct eye contact. To the listener, it communicates either lack of interest on your part or sincerity, maybe even both. Others, to appear honest and interested, go the opposite extreme: they take on the concentrated gaze of an amateur hypnotist!
What’s “comfortable” eye contact? Usually about three seconds at a time. Look in the eyes for about three seconds, then the hair or the mouth, across the room and then back to the eyes. Employ active listening techniques. Nod and acknowledge what the other person is saying. Interject empathetic responses like, “You must have felt terrified!” or “I’ve felt that way, before; it’s AWFUL, isn’t it?” or “How did you FEEL when that happened?” One complaint that comes up frequently is that pastors need to improve their listening skills. Don’t be fiddling with your jewelry, keys, necktie, pocket change or pen. Believe it or not, it’s not uncommon for pastors to be sorting their mail, haphazardly straightening their desks or even making notes to themselves and doodling when people are trying to talk to them. No wonder many people feel like they’re not truly cared about.
When you shake hands, don’t be like the stereotypical minister and offer a “limp fish.” Give a firm, brief handshake and look the person in the eye, sending them the silent message of “I like you.” One way to be certain to look a person in the eye is to make a specific habit of noting the color of the eyes of each person you meet. You’ll be surprised at what this simple little practice will do to enhance the impression you make on people. If you’re having a stand up conversation, at least initially stand at a 45 degree angle to the person you’re conversing with. This is less confrontational than a face on positioning and enables you to establish comfortable eye contact. Stand about 30 inches from the other person and don’t pace or keep shifting your weight from one foot to the other. Be as relaxed and comfortable in your body stance without slouching. Avoid negative stances such as, legs apart and arms crossed at the chest. It makes you look like an executioner.
One tip that a top minister offered was to wear your wristwatch on your right side instead your left. That way, when you glance at it, it doesn’t send the message that you’re hurried or bored. On the other hand, when you ARE trying to cut a conversation short, glance at your left wrist and the other party will get the message. When what you say and display are sending the same message, you will have more impact, increased credibility and greater favor with God and man and not to mention, you won’t find yourself frequently bored!