Research shows that two-thirds of human communication is nonverbal. In a group situation, the way someone communicates non-verbally can greatly influence the behavior of others. To make this point, here are a few anecdotes from our after-school social groups:
- Early in the session, two of the oldest boys in a group rebelled against our structure by moving away from everyone else and ignoring the facilitators. This behavior is unusual in our programs, as most kids comply with facilitator requests. It was evident that these older boys were looked up to and without asking others to join them, many of the other group members began to replicate the boys’ behavior. After we talked to the boys about their influence on the group and how their status put them in a leadership role, they stepped up to the plate and changed their behavior. Without any prompting from us, it took no time at all for the rest of the group to follow suit.
- A set of twins had a hard time separating–even for a minute! It didn’t matter that they were on different teams during an activity. They would always end up together, laughing and wrestling, forgetting they were part of different teams trying to win a game. An outsider looking in would immediately recognize how close the boys were and how happy they made each other. We observed that their teammates began to work around this behavior instead of reminding them to get back to the game. Typically, if someone isn’t performing, one or more team members will call that person out. We surmised that the joy these two exuded was so infectious, no one minded that they were doing their own thing. In fact, when they missed groups one week, there was a noticeable shift in the group’s demeanor; they were more serious.
- One boy would hang his head low when he didn’t like a game, and when peers tried to get him involved, he would often move away from them. He didn’t have to say a word to communicate that he wasn’t going to have fun no matter what. Sometimes we stopped play and talked as a group about how it affects us when teammates are unhappy and unresponsive. Occasionally, we’d have the teams resume play without this boy. We noticed that when this boy WAS NOT participating, competitive intensity between the teams increased. When he returned, the game became less competitive and their sensitivity to this boy appeared to be more important than winning. When he was clearly enjoying a game, everyone else was, too, and you could see how much everyone enjoyed being around him.
How we are communicating nonverbally in any given moment can affect other people’s moods, attitudes and behaviors. We encourage our groups to make a decision to have fun, regardless of the activity, by focusing on enjoying the people in the group instead of their opinions about a game. Just a simple switch in our thoughts can result in our displaying completely different behavior. This small adjustment can change the way others see us, and can ignite a cycle of positive energy!