by Dr Sam Wee Hong Tan, Senior Clinical Psychologist
As part of our Personal Development, many of us struggle with being interpersonally effective. Or as effective as we would like to be. We may wonder why, despite our best efforts, that we don’t seem to shake others’ perceptions of us or that we cannot seem to connect with others. We may then become disillusioned and pull back from social contact. Only to feel miserable and alone at the end of the day.
My sense is that our subtle behaviours plays a big part in how others perceive us. I recalled being called “the fierce psychologist”, and the “unapproachable one” in the hospital where I used to work in. I knew in my heart that I was a nice person. At least those who knew me would attest to the fact that I would not bite them. It was only when my colleague pointed to the semi-permanent scowl that I wear on my face that I realized where all the misconceptions came from.
It was my “thinking face” or “concentration face” appeared to be unappealing to others. And earned me the unwanted labels and kept people at bay. So despite my efforts to help them or to make small talk and connect, my facial expression conveyed a more powerful message of rejection.
So I would suggest to anyone who struggles with interpersonal effectiveness to start by examining their subtle non-verbal behaviours. Study your facial expressions and gestures. Notice your tone of voice and how fast or slow you speak. Pay attention also to your posture and eye contact. Look into a mirror and ask yourself how you would adjust these subtle non-verbal behaviours to be inviting and to convey a message of “I’m friendly” and “let’s be friends”. Finally, ask your friends for feedback and notice how others react to you when you carry those behaviours through your day-to-day life.
You may query the efficacy of these subtle changes and also question why you (not others) need to change. Changing our subtle behaviours may not lead to miraculous improvements to our relationships, but they can have a substantial impact. Additionally, we focus on ourselves simply because our own actions are the only things within our control.