Yesterday, on the first day of classes at MCCC, I walked the campus and visited a several classes. As I made my usual rounds, I stopped in Prof. Mark Bergmooser’s SPCH255 – Nonverbal Communication class. The class had just begun an exercise in nonverbal first impressions. Professor Bergmooser invited me to stay and partake in the exercise. I was eager to participate in this free educational endeavor. We were to congregate in groups of 2/3 (it was pairs of two, until I walked in and messed it up, so we had me as a third person in some groups) as we talked and discussed various topics and determined our first impressions of each other based on body language and other nonverbal signs.
As we concluded that exercise and discussed our impressions of those with whom we had interacted, I was struck by the fact that there is so much we can tell about people even before they say a word. Here are a couple of personal examples. Just two days ago, I was on a Delta Airlines (yes, I have called them out!) flight from Accra, Africa to New York. My aisle of the plane was attended to by two flight attendants who were obviously seasoned veterans. Throughout the 12 hour ordeal (there was a two hour delay), I did not see either one of them smile even once at any passenger! My conclusion based on their nonverbal communication, they hate their jobs. By contrast, on my flight from New York to Accra, we were attended to by a young lady who smiled consistently and even joked with passengers. At the end of the flight, I walked up to her and personally thanked her for keeping the smile on her face and for her positive attitude. Her response: “when you enjoy what you do, it is easy to keep smiling”. Enough said.
My other example has to do with interaction with individuals on campus, especially students. I make it a point to always say hello to anybody and everybody I encounter on campus – it is easy, simple, and the right thing to do. It is a loose version of the ten foot rule. Based on what I learned on the first day of class in Prof. Bergmooser’s class, nonverbal communication can make or break potential relationships. Even if we do not speak to those we pass in the hallway, a simple smile, a nod, a fist bump, a thumbs up, a wink – be careful who you wink at – Former President George W. Bush winked at me once, but that’s a whole different storyJ Of course, there is positive and negative nonverbal communication. Examples of positive would be a smile or an appropriate hug (underscore “appropriate”). Examples of negative would be a frown, a growl, a slap in the face, a kick in the shin, or a punch in the nose. Hopefully we have not experienced too many of those here on campus or anywhere else, for that matter. My point is, the body language we use when we interact with our students the first time we meet them may shape their opinions of us for a long time and may determine whether they stay with us or leave us. We are a student focused institution and we need to be cognizant of how well we are relating to our students and colleagues nonverbally. And to think I learned all that just on the first day of class.