Using nonverbal communication to be successful

Youth learned the value of nonverbal communication while completing an engineering challenge without talking.

Can you solve a group engineering challenge without talking? Surprisingly, when a group of youth were faced with this challenge, they rose to the occasion and succeeded in silence. Communication, especially for those working in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, is essential to reaching goals. An Extreme Engineering session held at the Arenac, Iosco and Ogemaw 4-H Camp in June 2016 provided a terrific example of what makes communication effective.

A pipe challenge was presented to 25 youth ages 8-12 who were asked to utilize all 27 varying lengths of PVC pipe and 23 pipe fittings to design a closed, three-dimensional structure. On day one of the challenge, youth formed a line and each took a turn in completing the task during a 20 minute time period. Observed behaviors included the group adamantly coaching and yelling out directions as each youth took a turn adding a section of pipe or a fitting to the structure. The end result on day one was a structure with approximately half of the objects placed, a general sense of chaos and a tone of frustration following the activity.

Day two began with the youth being reminded of how important communication is for those working in STEM careers. The group went on to discuss potential barriers that may hamper communication, including working with groups who are in different locations or speak different languages. The youth were asked to consider other forms of communication, such as facial expressions, body movements, gestures and eye contact, all of which could be utilized to help groups communicate their interests.

Lastly, the pipe challenge for day two was modified by eliminating verbal communication. Youth formed a line and were only allowed to communicate using nonverbal communication skills to help each other through the challenge. Unlike day one, the entire structure was completed during the 20-minute time block, with the entire group demonstrating an attitude of achievement and celebrating their accomplishment.

The ability to interact with others using verbal and nonverbal communication is an important skill for youth to develop. To become better communicators, it is important to not only be aware of the nonverbal cue of others, but also to the ones we are expressing.

For more ways to share science with youth in your life, explore Michigan State University Extension’s Science and Engineering webpage. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

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