Make Difficult Conversations Easier With These Powerful Nonverbal Cues – Michael Grinder & Associates

Make Difficult Conversations Easier With These Powerful Nonverbal Cues

One of Michael Grinder’s beloved skills is utilizing nonverbal cues during to help difficult conversations flow more smoothly.

These nonverbal communication tips will help you have difficult conversations more easily with your employees, partner, boss, or parents.

How do you have difficult conversations?

My name is Michael Grinder, and I work in the area of nonverbal communication.

So what we want to do is we want to show you a set of skills you can use. It’s called when to make eye contact and when not to.

The term for it is — if two people are talking to each other, there’s one and the second party — so it’s called two-point communication.

If one of them looks at a piece of paper, flip chart, PowerPoint — and the other party also looks — you now you have one, two, and then you have the third entity. So it’s called three-point communication.

Here’s your rule of thumb for using nonverbal cues during a difficult conversation.

If the interaction is positive, try to always do a two-point.

If the interaction is volatile or negative, use your nonverbal cue and try to do a three-point communication.


Well, if you have volatile information and you’re looking at each other, it increases the breathing level of both parties. Both the sender and the receiver go into stress.

We’ve got to keep people breathing. Why? When you don’t breathe, you have knee-jerk reactions. We’ve gotta be creative. We’ve gotta be able to hear the information that’s being said and generate solutions so that the relationship is preserved. So, the nonverbal cue of three-point communication allows both parties to breathe better and separates the content from the relationship.

And that’s what you’re trying to preserve. Relationships are the key to long-term stability and sustainability. So if you can, go visual with information before you ever start to communicate, so it’s ready, so you can go to it.

What we’re going to do is we’re going to show you a couple of examples of that.

So here we are. I’m sitting at a table. I have someone else I want to talk with. The difficulty is we’re across from each other. Whenever the chairs are facing each other, you just increased the likelihood of a two-point communication.

So what do you do to use a three-point nonverbal cue?

Well, if you would, before you start, do the following;

— Set the chairs up so that they’re at 90 degrees. What a difference it makes.

— Most people are right-handed, so make sure your dominant hand is closest to the person.

— Whenever you share the information, make sure you put the information so it’s directly in front of them and they can see it. Because you have your dominant hand closest to the other person, when you go to point to the paper, you will turn your body naturally so that you’re focusing on this information instead of eye contact.

Why is that dominant hand so important for this nonverbal cue?

Well, let’s pretend you’re left-handed. If you’re left-handed and you’re going to point to the information on the third point, you will naturally start turning your body towards the paper, which increases the likelihood of making eye contact.

It’s a rule of thumb for difficult conversations. Dominant hand, closest to the other person, sit at 90 degrees, make sure the content is in front of them.

Another tip for difficult conversations: When you review the information, go down on the outside of the margin.

For instance, I want to make sure that I indicate where I am on the page instead of having my hand go directly across. Going directly across blocks the vision of the other person. They can’t see the content. So make sure, outside going down.

Your palm is going to be up when you’re facing them, and it’s going to be down when you were looking at the third point, why?

Palm up has a friendly kind of voice. Palm down as a nonverbal cue is more serious or credible.

What a difference it makes. The ergonomics of how you arrange things.

So what’s an example when you’re standing up?

Same thing.

Two-point, look at the audience when you have a larger group than just you and one other person when you’re saying positive things. When you’re going to say something negative, volatile or explosive, use your nonverbal cue and go visual.

Best way to do this. If the group is small enough so you don’t have to go to PowerPoint, have two flip charts. Have one flip chart that you can turn towards when you talk about the agenda and what we’re going to cover, then walk over to the other one and do your breaking of the bad news. Having two flip charts separates the good and bad news. So when you come back, you make sure that that’s over there.

Two-point nonverbal cue = positive conversation.

Three-point nonverbal cue = negative conversation.

What a difference it makes when you’re having difficult conversations.

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