Patnaude Coaching

My Whiskers Are Not Your Snack: A Lesson in Nonverbal Communication


A fish doesn’t speak “horse” and a horse doesn’t speak “fish”. But are they communicating?

According to, Communication is the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs; something imparted, interchanged, or transmitted. You get the idea, so now looking at the horse and the goldfish you could see that there is an exchange of information without a word. Nonverbal communication is just as effective as verbal communication; some would argue that it’s more. Have you heard the expression, actions speak louder than words?

The horse in the picture has no intention of conveying any information to the fish. He did not think to himself while eating grass that “I haven’t communicated with the fish in my water tank in a long time, I am going to go over there and let him know my whiskers are not a snack”.  Instead, the horse was thirsty, went to the water tank and got a drink. The fish approached him based on past experience that sometimes those big nosed creatures drop grass and dirt snacks into the water, obtained information that he had not brought any such thing this time and made a decision to swim away.

Has there been a time when you walked past a person and had a bad feeling about them or sensed they were someone to be avoided, based on physical characteristics? Or the time you had an exchange with someone and came away from that conversation with a thought that they were annoyed or mad at you even though all of their words said otherwise, based on tone of voice or facial expression?  We send nonverbal messages without intention; we are also receiving and actively looking for those nonverbal signals all the time. It was at one time in our early existence, vital for survival. Innately we possess this skill and it is probably the most honest way of communicating. In business and in life, being aware of your nonverbal cues and signals and making sure you are sending the message you intend will lead to wanted results. It is something we all have control over with intention and practice.

Think about what information you are transmitting without intending to. It may be the difference of a sale, making a connection at a networking event, or the cooperation of a co-worker.

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