by Rob Furlong
The experts tell us that 70% of what we communicate to each other is non-verbal. This means when we are talking with people, they are going to be paying a lot more attention to the messages they are receiving from our body language than to what we are saying.
We know this fact to be true because we have all been on the receiving end of “conversations” where a person’s body language has spoken loudly and clearly!
Ever been in an important work meeting where one of the participants sits through the entire time with their arms tightly folded and a scowl etched across their face?
Or tried to communicate an important point and find yourself wagging your finger vehemently as you seek to drive it home? (My wife has occasionally needed to draw my attention to the fact that I am doing this!)
In both situations, the body language may not intend to convey negativity – the person with crossed arms may just be cold – but the potential for it to be taken negatively is huge.
It is important, therefore, to watch our body language when we are with people and it is an important skill to develop as we seek to be truly present with them.
Jesus was a master of this skill.
On one occasion, a man came to Jesus, asking Him to heal him from his leprosy.
In the society of which Jesus was a part of, lepers were true outcasts. They were not allowed to live inside a city protected by walls and although they could attend a synagogue service, they could only do so by sitting behind a screen that kept them isolated from the rest of the congregation. As you can imagine, such regulations further drove home the sense of rejection these people felt.
Thus, in responding to the man’s request for healing, Jesus does something incredibly significant – He reaches out and touches him! This was unheard of in those days – people did not go around touching lepers – but in this simple act Jesus conveyed to this man, by His body language, love, and acceptance.
The words of Jesus brought healing to the man’s body – His non-verbal language brought healing to his soul.
It is the same with us.
We can listen carefully to another, working at being present with them, but inadvertently be sending a negative message via our body language.
When our spouse, child or friend is pouring out their soul to us, sometimes an arm around the shoulder, a squeeze of the hand or a gentle smile of compassion will convey far more than our words ever will.
They say, “I am not just listening to you; I feel your pain and I am with you.”
This does not mean our words do not matter – they most certainly do.
I think again of Jesus on the first Good Friday, dying for the sins of the world.
In the middle of His pain and suffering, He demonstrates incredible compassion for those around Him.
He knows His mother, Mary, is there and as she watches the death of her son, “a sword is piercing her heart.” With amazing love and tenderness, He turns to His dear friend John and asks that he take care of her.
“Woman, behold, your son! (John), behold your mother!” (John 19:26,27)
The depth of love conveyed by Jesus here is staggering. Right to the very end He is supremely present with people, in words and actions, placing their needs ahead of His own.
This is truly the essence of what it means to be present with people, verbally and non-verbally, by humbly seeking their good first and foremost.
Our words are important when being present with people, but so are our actions.
Keep this in mind over the next month and put them into practice.
And remember…try not to wag your finger!