Saturday, March 28, 2009

Nonverbal Communication: Experiences in Parking Cars

According to the almighty Wikipedia;

A gesture is a non-vocal bodily movement intended to express meaning. They may be articulated with the hands, arms or body, and also include movements of the head, face and eyes, such as winking, nodding, or rolling ones' eyes.

A gesture is just one of the many forms of Nonverbal communication that we use everyday. What you may not know is just how important Nonverbal communication is in directing traffic in a parking lot of 200+ cars.

I recently had the pleasure of volunteering with the Mass Audubon Society during their local Woolapalooza extravaganza, and extravaganza it certainly turned out to be. We couldn't have asked for better weather, 60 and Sunny all day; I myself am returning to my Kentucky roots sporting a nice red-neck to show for my work today.

After a quick meeting with our Boston Cares team leaders I headed out to the parking lot to meet up with the rest of the team, which consisted of: One tall lanky Oakley sunglass sporting middle aged man named Tony who is the head parking guy, another shorter wiry balding man named Bob but referred to as "Bo" by other staff members, a lovely blonde female twenty something staffer who exudes happy-go-luckyness from every ounce of her being, and the other volunteer assigned to this team, a congenial middle aged Scottish man wearing a Patriots hat and some sporty sunglasses.

I'm given a vibrant orange vest to wear, like everybody else, "So I don't get run over" says Tony. The vest is the start of our Nonverbal communication, it clashes with the pale verdant shades of the new found Spring that has arrived this very day as if in anticipation of this very extravaganza. After a bit of a dry run in a smaller parking lot, we start seeing a major influx of cars around 10:30 AM.

Every parking car is just looking for some direction. Naturally, the Orange Vested are here to help in any way we can. Here is the first lesson I learn about Nonverbal communication while parking cars: Keep a smile, you are the first contact of this extravaganza for these people. It seriously all starts with you, if someone has a bad experience parking, they are going to be pissed off when they get to the gate and have to wait in line to get in, etc... I, the Orange Vested, am here to help you park in an efficient and economical way, the problem is, I can't share that feeling with you, the parking person, except through limited gestures involving hands, smiles, thumbs-ups, occasional leg-kicks and maybe a fist pump or two (okay, maybe I squeezed a wink in every now and then).

Let me break down the normal communication cycle while parking a car. First, there is the communication confirmation. This is normally a head-nod or direct eye-contact with the driver of the vehicle. What were doing here is setting up this nonverbal conversation between the Orange Vested and the parking party. What we want to convey here is that we see them, they are important, worthy of our attention and we are going to get them in a spot as quick as possible.

Next we want to start with a direction impression. The direction impression is usually a grandiose gesture with the hands that indicates a particular direction to be followed. The direction impression is vital because it lets the parking party know where to go next. The direction impression could point towards an available parking spot or just to the next Orange Vested individual who will continue the nonverbal directions to an available parking spot.

Finally, we have the landing directives. The landing directive is usually a horizontally outstretched right hand indicating where the front of the car should end up as well as a continuous circular "come-hither" motion with the left hand. These directives are usually given out by the Orange Vested individual in the parking spot to be parked in. The directives indicate how far to pull in, and if and where they may be dangers in the spot, e.g. rough or muddy terrain.

Overall, I had a great time parking cars today. I know I have a new found respect for the people directing traffic at large events.

Now Playing: Dropkick Murphys - I'm Shipping up to Boston

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