I never learned anything while I was talking.
Larry King

Ožga Škvareninová. Interview

The Slovak saying goes: The bird is known for its feathers, the man for his speech. In reality there is much more that gives away the man. We think intuitively about the character of a man we meet for the first time. Some people call it a sixth sense, but academically it is called non- verbal communication. For 20 years, PhDr. Ožga Škvareninová, CSc. has dedicated her professional career to the study of it.
"Non-verbal communication consists of many means that are mutually connected and in everyday contact represent around 60 percent of the information about a person", says Ožga Škvareninová. "We cannot evaluate a person only from one gesture because this only represents his actual psychological state. Non-verbal communication functions in symbiosis. For example, the distance between communicants also influences the choice of words, position of the body, for example how we stand or sit, body motion, face motion, eye contact, the touch but also the colour of the voice, the colour itself, the smell as well as the environment and partner, his age and sex. Also the weather can influence us negatively or positively, how we feel in this moment, everything around us matters."
The ability to achieve more, a better position at work, a new job, or a good contract for the company also depends on our abilities to present ourselves. How much can non-verbal communications skills help?
The newest research shows that during job interviews knowledge represents 75 percent and the ability to connect and get attention 25 percent. It is necessary to specify that in the field of non-verbal communication 90 percent of people see it as positive. When the communicant is kind, open and friendly, that is very important during job interviews. The first impression is very important and is created in the first few seconds. During training for non-verbal communication it is necessary to build on the first impression and then ensure that the communicant does not change his positive first impression to a different one.
Photo by Martin MarenčinYou professionally train non-verbal communication. How do you get in touch with your clients?
I am not looking for them on my own initiative, in most cases the company, organisation or a client find me after hearing me on radio or seeing me on TV. Most of my clients have very high positions or want to achieve a higher position at work. Sometimes I talk to my possible clients myself because I see his or her personal dispositions and a will to work on themselves in a positive way. I prefer co-operation with individuals, that is sometimes that I like the most now.
What are the results of your co-operation?
I observe my clients and I am sure that some of them will achieve a great career. One of my clients has already been offered a very high position in his job, but I would like to underline, that is not only thanks to our co-operation. This person had the ability, mainly thanks to his own non-verbal communication to get that position, his knowledge was sufficient enough and he also has great charm. He must still work on his verbal communication. I am very glad when my work is noticeable in my clients. I don't want to change a man, only to underline his or her positive characteristics and reduce those less pleasant or less positive. I don't want to produce clones. Each of us is unique.
How do you work with a client?
First of all I must know the person very well. I observe him very inconspicuously as he communicates. During our first meeting he talks about himself, his family, and so on. If it is a well-known personality from the media, it is easier for me because I have the opportunity to work by seeing my client on TV or see the pictures. And after these observations I create a training programme and explain to the client what he does well, what is excellent and what can be also used to influence other people in meetings. For example, a politician with his smile can influence an anchor or moderator and create a pleasant atmosphere. After that I move to the things that are necessary to change. I don't force my client to accept all my suggestions. If I tell him he uses aggressive gestures and unsuitable facial language and his colleagues also see it this way, he can but doesn't to change it.
Can non-verbal communication be abused?
Yes. For example the man who wears dark glasses during a public presentation. That is a great trick, because we don't know if he is lying or telling the truth. We are able to control all our body except the eyes. Maybe we could do it after a hard yoga training or after other special training, that I don't know, but from the related literature I know that a man's eyes shine differently when he is lying or when he is happy about something. You can see it during a poker game, when a player who receives a good card shows it involuntarily through his eyes. According to English research, a professional player of cards had never won without wearing dark glasses.
Photo by Martin MarenčinYou have a very specific relation to sport. You don't watch it to relax but football trainers are also subjects of your research into non-verbal communication.
I really relax by watching sports, but mainly with football trainers I notice their way of communication with players, their gestures, body state, expressions. Especially one of them seemed to be very active maybe even aggressive on the playing field. His gestures were showing that he is a different person. He was honest, open and absolutely not aggressive during everyday communication. And personal contact with him confirmed it and showed that many trainers use non-verbal communication to express their actual state and often fight the stress with it.
Do you observe non-verbal communication in your everyday non-professional life?
Not in my private life. But sometimes I must force myself not to observe body language of people who communicate with me. During lessons with my students I correct mainly the verbal side of their speech. I wouldn't have a problem to correct people constantly, but who would want to talk to me afterwards?
You are a university teacher who studies the English and Slovak language. How did you find out about non-verbal communication?
During my university years I was attracted to find out what is hidden behind words. Words don't always tell the truth. I asked well-known linguist Jozef Mistrík to help me with my thesis on non-verbal communication. During that time there was no literature about it and so I was getting it from abroad in exchange for handcrafts from Slovakia. Later I got in touch with the Universities in Vienna and Hamburg. I found out that non-verbal communication is my big love – most probably the love for the rest of my life.
Did you meet a perfect man in this field?
No, because nobody is perfect. But children are the best readers and communicants of non-verbal communication. Research shows that when a child asks for a toy from another child and his head is slightly to one side, he is more successful than a child who is more aggressive. Even adults who have their heads slightly on one side are more successful and it is easier for them to achieve what they want and people are more willing to satisfy them.
Can the research and tips from foreign literature apply to Slovaks?
Yes, but not automatically. Foreign literature comes from different cultures and results there often advise on how to be successful in that society paying attention to the character and temperament of people who live there. Foreign literature helps me a lot but has to go through a filter. I cannot recommend to Slovak men that they gesticulate and move the same way as Americans. Also, some gestures in different cultures mean different things. The connection of the thumb and forefinger in Slovakia means it is OK, but in Germany it is a very vulgar insult. But on the contrary, what we should take from western culture is a smile and self control. Slovaks smile very seldom they appear to be angry and they often deal with problems with hot heads. Things are resolved faster and a man can be more successful with a smile and self-control.
By Martina Nízka
In: Business Slovakia, July – August 2003, p. 16-19.