I had a conversation recently that was confusing. The topic was intense, and I had anticipated that the other person (let’s call him James) might have some strong feelings. When we sat down together, he said the right words. If you read a transcript after the fact, you’d think that everything was fine.

It wasn’t fine. James’ nonverbal reaction didn’t match his words. The tone of his voice was flat – none of the typical ups and downs of inflection I would expect in a positive conversation. James shifted several times in his seat, as if he wanted to get up and leave. He covered his clenched fist with the other hand.

If we’d been friends, I might have just said, “What’s up? You seem tense.” In this situation, I chose to say, “Help me understand how you feel about this.” That was enough to unleash the emotions, and we could deal with them. We didn’t resolve everything, so we made an agreement to talk again in a week.

How do you handle it when someone’s nonverbal reaction doesn’t match what they say?


Communication needs to achieve mutual understanding. We can help.

Photo from dollarphotoclub.com.