“Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself.” Mark Twain

How often does body language betray the message that words deliver? And how often does tone of voice dictate the reaction we receive? As communication can be divided into spoken words, body language, and tone, there are a number of ways to engage your speaker and / or audience.

The author Roy T Bennett believes that “we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply”. This is often most evident in the heat of an argument when we lose track of the purpose of the discussion and focus solely on ‘winning’. If we can take a moment to ask ourselves what we want from the conversation, we might avoid a full blazing row. However, if we can avoid trading knockout blows, these fiery encounters can sometimes be positive experiences. From an elemental perspective, we each have traits that we engage more frequently than others. Therefore, allowing ourselves to experience the passion of fire or the stubbornness of wood can be almost therapeutic.

Furthermore, how frequently do we switch off when someone is talking? From never-ending meetings and drawn out discussions, we are all guilty of daydreaming at times and emitting less than positive verbal cues. As speakers we are fully aware when someone is no longer an ‘active listener’. Their body language changes, eye contact disappears and both parties lose interest. Admittedly, this can sometimes be due to our proficiency, or lack of, as orators. However, aware of how this feels as the speaker, maximising the time we spend actively listening can be both professionally and personally beneficial.

Moreover, with a plethora of choices to help us stay in contact with one another, identifying tone of voice and body language is increasingly difficult. As phone conversations increase our sensitivity to sound cues, and text messages reduce our processing power to visual cues, it is easy to see how quickly misinterpretations can occur. Therefore, a skill worth learning is recognising which cues we tend to misunderstand and which communication tool suits us best. Time and geographical factors will inevitably play a role in who we communicate with and how, but for those of whom we can see face-to-face, identifying and understanding all of their cues is bound to reap rewards.


Fie, fie upon her!

There’s language in her eye, her cheek, her lip,

Nay, her foot speaks; her wanton spirits look out

At every joint and motive of her body.

William Shakespeare