What Are You Saying When You Don’t Open Your Mouth?

In 1875 Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary. (1)” That quote has taken many forms over the years and can be summed up with the following abbreviated quote, “What you do speaks so loud, that I cannot hear what you say.” In other words, we do talk when we don’t open our mouth.

It seems like we communicate more with our mouth closed than open. Depending on who you talk to you will get different thoughts on exactly how much of our communication is nonverbal. Conservative communication professionals would suggest that our nonverbal behavior or body language make up at least 70% of our communication. Facial expressions, eye movement, body posture and hand gestures all play a major role in our nonverbal communication.

When we communicate to our colleagues or our kids we should be aware
of what we are saying when we don’t open our mouth.

3 Nonverbal Communication Reminders

1. Nonverbal Communication Is Highly Emotional

If we are excited about something we generally become more animated with our nonverbal communication. Hands moving, eyes wide open, smiling and laughing. If you just won a new car and were telling your friends about it, what would that look like? How would you say it?

2. Nonverbal Communication Is Usually More Credible

They are called “cues.” A cue is simply something we do that isn’t backed up by what we say. If we are talking to a good friend and keep stopping during the middle of the conversation to reply to a text we are communicating disinterest even thought we said, “Go ahead, I’m listening.” We listen with our eyes more than our ears. Emerson once said, “What you are doing is thundering above your head so loud I can’t hear what you are saying.”1

3. Nonverbal Communication Means We Are Always Communicating

We are walking billboards. The question is, What are we advertising? As we walk through our day or speak with others at the office how are we communicating? Our faces are telling a story whether we tell it to be quiet or not.

On occasion I will be talking with someone in a pleasant manner and they will say, “Are you okay?” “Of course I’m okay. Why do you ask?” Then they may something like, “You seem sad or upset.” After some reflection on these moments I can tell you my face sometimes just looks upset. I’m not upset, it’s just “resting” that way. Here’s what I am saying.

Occasionally some people just look mad, upset, or frustrated when they are not. Their face just “looks” that way. What I am suggesting is if your face or my face “rests” that way then we may need to change it. So, here are three ways we can get our body and face to align with our words.

3 Ways To Better Communication When You Aren’t Talking

1. Watch What You Say, Literally

If you communicate for a living then record yourself and watch it. Yes, it’s painful. How many times do you say that word? How fast are you really talking? How often are you looking at your notes? Daily communication with people at work, your boss, your team is a little different but the same in many respects. How is your face “resting?” Do you look mad, angry or upset when you are not?

2. Smile

A smile is an inexpensive way to improve our looks as well as communicate to others a positive demeanor. When you smile at others they typically smile back. It’s a friendly look that say, “How are you? I hope you are having a good day.”

3. Be Animated

Move when you talk. No, not flailing around but emotionally animated is helpful to express what you are saying. Gesture with your face, forehead and eyes. Our eyes are often the best way to communicate positivity with others. Proverbs 15:30 says, “Bright eyes gladden the heart.” Maybe, just maybe if each of us worked on what our body was saying then we wouldn’t have to talk so much.


1. What does your “resting face” usually look like?
2. Have you ever watched yourself talk? How dd you feel?
3. What one thing can you do in order to be a better nonverbal communicator?

(1) Quote Investigator, Accessed 04-06-2015, http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/01/27/what-you-do-speaks/

Photo Credit: shutterstock.com Image ID: 192059993 © lassedesignen