It is well know that only about 7% of communication is expressed in language. 93% of all communication is expressed in body language, facial expression, and tone of voice. That means the better you are able to ‘read’ the other person’s non-verbal expressions, the better you will be at connecting and communicating.

People usually signal to others their readiness to make a connection through expressive gestures. Expressive gestures of recognition that signal care, appreciation, encouragement, and support have long been identified as necessary for human infants’ psycho-social development, for affect regulation, for the development of the brain, and for identity formation. They take such a significant role in human interactions because they signal to people in abbreviated form “I have your well-being in mind and I will do no harm”.

As adults we usually have developed a wide range of verbal and nonverbal ways to alert other people of our intention. Depending on the context in which the encounter between people takes place a person may, for example, smile at someone caringly, embrace someone lovingly, greet someone respectfully, or acknowledge someone friendly. Each expression signals a different level of readiness to connect with another person.

Some people struggle ‘reading’ nonverbal cues. In fact autism and other disorders along the autistic spectrum are to a significant extent the inability to read another person’s verbal and/or non-verbal expressions. Others struggle with interpreting correctly the non-verbal expressions of people they come in contact with. Their interpretation is coloured by their own wishes, fears, hopes, and most notably by their own history.

It can be awkward when two people get their verbal and non-verbal ‘messages’ crossed. I am thinking of the classical situation where one person extends the hand out for a greeting while the other person completely ignores or overlooks the invitation to shake hands. Even writing about it connects me with a bout of embarrassment. Another situation is when a couple says ‘good bye’ and they are both not clear whether the connection they made is on the level of ‘hugs’ (good friends) or ‘kisses’ (lovers).

So, how do you know if someone is ready to connect with you? You read their non-verbal expressions. Good observation skills come in handy in situations like this. But don’t be too sure that what you see is what you get. Always be willing to check out your assumptions, because there often is a whole other layer of culturally defined practices on top of non-verbal expressions.

For more reading go to:
Daniel Stern, 1977, The First Relationship: Infant and Mother (Harvard University Press)
Axel Honneth, 1995, The Struggle for Recognition (MIT Press)
A.N. Schore, 2003, Affect Dysregulation & Disorder of the Self (Norton)
A.N. Schore, 2003, Affect Regulation and the Repair f the Self (Norton)
L.J. Cozolino, 2002, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Building and Rebuilding the Human Brain, Norton

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Gudrun Frerichs is a trainer, psychotherapist, and researcher who has researched for the last 9 years how people recover from the impact of abuse. She has dedicated herself to assisting survivors of sexual abuse to grow strong and fulfil their potential and their dreams. For information about the recovery from sexual abuse and about courses for healing, self-awareness, effective communication, and successful relationships go to