Gesticulation is the Weird Secret to Better Conversations—Even Over the Phone or Email!

Emotional connection to speech is key to conversation

I have stood in front of my computer typing, only to have my fingers fly off the keys into a pointer-finger point, an air quote, or even a middle-finger salute. Of course I gesticulate talking on the phone, I’ve never thought twice about it.

Turns out, this habit of gesticulating–talking with my hands—makes me a better communicator. Like the advice to smile when you answer the phone, gesticulating can make your words more powerful, even if the listener can’t see the gestures.

“Because gestures and words very probably form a single “communication system”, which ultimately serves to enhance expression intended as the ability to make oneself understood,” explains Marina Nespor, a neuroscientist at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste.

Prosody is the intonation and rhythm of spoken language, features that help to highlight sentence structure and therefore make the message easier to understand. Nespor’s new study with Alan Langus, a SISSA research fellow, and Bahia Guellai, published in Frontiers in Psychology, demonstrates the role of gestures in prosody: “the prosody that accompanies speech is not ‘modality specific'” explains Langus.

Their study involved video and audio trials, and results were consistent across those modalities: there was confusion only when gestures didn’t match what the speaker was saying, and even then listeners tended to go with what the speaker gestured as opposed to said.

“In human communication, voice is not sufficient: even the torso and in particular hand movements are involved, as are facial expressions”, concludes Nespor.

You can apply this notion of full-body communication to all of your correspondence: the more information and clues you can give your listener (or reader), the better.

Image: Some rights reserved by Susan NYC

Category: Style


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