How do blind People pick up on non-verbal communication?

There is a common assumption among people that if you are blind, you lose out on most face to face communication. That is because 70 per cent of it is non-verbal. To think that I lose out on that much is depressing if nothing else. Especially for a journalist who likes to be on top of everything all the time.

But I am convinced that I don’t lose out on everything that isn’t verbal. Sure. I can’t see looks passing between people. And I can’t pick up on grimaces and nods to symbolize certain things. But a lot of the non-verbal communication does not actually require sight as much as it requires a high social intelligence.

One thing a lot of people underestimates is the physical energy between two or more people who are communicating face to face This may sound a bit new age, but it really isn’t. For instance, think about a time in your life or a place you went once where you felt uncomfortable. It could have been that two girls in the school yard refused to play with you, or it could have been a house of a friend or relative where you just didn’t feel at ease for no good reason. That’s energy and we as people reflect it all the time.

The type of energy you choose to reflect affects how people see you. That’s why you sometimes find the not so pretty girl having tons of admirers whilst the beauty in the corner may get the looks, but that’s all.

So what, apart from the words being said am I picking up in conversations?

First of all it’s the tone of voice. It’s not what you say, but how you say it. And because I need to be more sensitive to those things, I pick up nuances that may be so minor you think they’re not noticeable. But they are. A slight hesitation, an almost inaudible sigh or a small laugh entirely changes the meaning of a sentence.

The second thing is how well you know the person. Picking up on the non-verbal stuff is a lot easier when you know someone well than when you haven’t met them before. I can usually work out pretty quickly whether my sister or best friends are having a good day or not without saying so, whilst with strangers, it takes longer.

Thirdly, it’s body language. If someone is standing close enough, I can sense whether they’re leaning forwards or pulling back. I can also feel someone close to me gesturing, either because their hand touches me at some point, or because I feel the movement in the air around me.

And finally, it’s the energy and mood. The mood of a situation is a pretty good indicator of what someone is trying to communicate. And that hardly needs any verbal explanation.

Of course I get it wrong sometimes. I think someone is annoyed when they’re not, or I can be fooled to think someone’s happy when as a matter of fact, they’re depressed. But guess what. Sighted people get this wrong too.

No, I can’t see you nodding at me from across the room. But I don’t think I miss out on as much as some might think.

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