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You Can Sharpen Your Non-verbal Communication Skills (without breaking a sweat!)

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When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Communication in the workplace is so much more than verbal communication. We’ve lost count of how many times we have understood each other without anyone saying even a single word. We do not even realize how often we communicate with our colleagues without uttering a single word. 

What? Without saying a word, and that too throughout the day?

I already know what’s going on in your mind. You might find it hard to believe, but the truth is – 93% of effective communication is nonverbal, while spoken words account for only 7%

Numbers don’t lie! 

What is non-verbal communication?

Nonverbal communication, or manual language, is exchanging messages without using words, either spoken or written. Nonverbal communication takes place through body gestures, like eye contact, facial expressions, using hands, body postures, etc. Three main elements of nonverbal communication are – body language, appearance, and sounds. 

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Nonverbal communication reveals a lot about our personality and general mood. In the workplace, nonverbal communication can affect, enhance, and reinforce your interaction with others. 

Types of nonverbal communication in the workplace

Every day at work, we send and receive many messages from others without saying anything. We use signs, gestures, eye contact, and sounds to get our message across during team meetings, interviews, or casual conversations. 

It is important for team managers and members to effectively use as well as read body language. Let’s dig deeper and understand various types of nonverbal communication in the workplace. 

  • Maintaining eye contact 

How would you feel when you are communicating with someone, and that person is not looking at their cell phone, paperwork, or computer? You might feel angry, offended, or neglected. On the other hand, when the other person is maintaining proper eye contact with you during the conversation, you will feel being attentively listened to and keeps the conversation engaging. Both types of behavior can impact (positively or negatively) your relationship with peers, seniors, and subordinates at the workplace

  • Keeping a positive tone of voice 

Even though speaking is considered a verbal form of communication, the manner you speak can be considered as a part of non-verbal communication. Whether you are having a face-to-face discussion, telephonic talk, or participating in a video call, your tone of voice can significantly affect the feel of the entire conversation. Do not be loud, pessimistic, or hypocritical. Rather, your voice should have a positive and sincere tone.

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Pro Tip: You can record your conversations, listen to them, and identify what the tone of voice expresses. 
  • Appropriate facial expressions

At the workplace, people tend to judge your mood or personality by merely observing your facial expressions. Keeping a poker face most of the time can make people see you as a stoic or stubborn individual. On the other hand, smiling all the time, even during serious discussions, can make you appear a non-serious or casual type of person. Your facial expressions play an important role during nonverbal communication. Nodding in approval, gently smiling (depending on the nature of the discussion), and maintaining eye contact can convey positive signals to others. 

Pro Tip: If you want to express positivity and a vibrant attitude in the workplace, wear a natural look on your face. Hold a slight smile, nod occasionally, and maintain good eye contact.
  • Using hand gestures constructively

Hand gestures are considered explicit conveyors of communication. A simple thumbs-up, V (victory) sign, or waving your hand to others gives a clear message to others about your intentions. Use your hands while explaining your points, but avoid overusing them. Hand gestures can hinder or help your communication. So, make sure that you avoid using gestures like scratching your head, settling your hair, finger-pointing, fidgeting, tapping, etc. Keep your hand gestures reasonable and restricted within your personal space. 

  • Appearance

There are times when your appearance can have a greater impact than your words. Since nonverbal communication involves the use of no words but only bodily actions and gestures, your appearance can leave a lasting impression on others. A neat, well-groomed appearance can reflect your personality and self-confidence, and also has a positive rub-off effect on others in the workspace. 

  • Body movement and posture

We perceive others to a certain extent by the way they carry themselves, like their body posture, stance, gestures, bodily movements (walking, talking, sitting, etc.). For example, slouching may send a negative signal that the listener is least interested in the conversation. On the other hand, if the listener is standing upright or leaning forward, it sends a strong signal that they are attentive and focused. Body posture can also send a strong clue as to whether the person is happy, sad, or friendly.   

  • Proxemics

Maintaining an appropriate physical distance with the other person during verbal or nonverbal communication is important. You don’t want another person to be touching you or come extremely close; this behavior could be termed undesirable, intrusive, or even hostile. Generally, the minimum amount of personal space we need while interacting with others is 18 inches. This distance can also go up to 4 feet. Remember. There’s no defined minimum physical distance as this is determined by factors like social norms, personality characteristics, cultural expectations, etc. 

Why nonverbal communication is crucial in the workplace?

We communicate nonverbally many times a day with our colleagues in the workplace. One of the crucial things about nonverbal communication is that if we don’t use our body language, facial expressions, gestures, signals, eye contact properly, it’s likely that your message would be misinterpreted. 

nonverbal communication is crucial

So, it’s important for us to use nonverbal communication smartly to reinforce and enhance our conversations in the workplace with colleagues and bosses. Nonverbal communication also plays a pivotal role in social settings, like office parties, lunches, seminars, etc. 

Let’s understand what makes nonverbal communication in the workplace such a game-changer. 

  • Helps you demonstrate your true feelings

There are times when a text message or even an oral form of communication doesn’t express what you truly feel inside. 

For example, if your manager sends you a text message and asks you to spend extra time at work to complete and deliver a high-priority project, you are likely to reply in the affirmative even when you’re feeling gutted and angry. Now, if this happens during a face-to-face interaction, you might nod in approval (without saying a word) while rolling your eyeballs. This would clearly demonstrate your true feelings in the workplace.  

  • Reinforcement

Nonverbal communication can make you reinforce your opinion in many situations in the workplace. For example, by having a firm handshake with your client and carrying a warm smile on your face during in-person interaction, you have a higher chance of closing the deal. 

Positive nonverbal cues will reinforce to your client that you are enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with him. Your nonverbal communication, along with your oral communication, when matched, can make your listener feel comfortable with you. 

  • Impacts workplace relationships

Nonverbal messages communicate your attitude towards your job, your coworkers, and seniors in the workplace. So, it’s vital for people to be consciously aware of their nonverbal communication as they communicate verbally to make sure that your message matches with your intentions. 

Positive nonverbal communication can help you improve and strengthen workplace relationships, and negative nonverbal communication can worsen things for you and others. 

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  • Improves workplace performance 

Managers can communicate strongly with their team members, which can result in improved job performance and productivity. Managers may interact with employees several times a day to communicate project-related matters, which include employee policies, job performance objectives, and much more. Nonverbal messages send a clear signal to the manager’s attitude towards employees. 

Positive nonverbal cues can boost the morale of employees. Such as patting on their back, listening attentively, placing a reaffirming hand on their shoulders, etc. As a result, they are likely to work harder. 

  • Career advancement 

Imagine you’re heading to a team meeting. One team member keeps crossed arms, has sweaty palms, and wears shabby attire. These go down as negative nonverbal cues that signal a lack of confidence, casual attitude, anxiety, which can hamper the chances of career progression. On the other hand, a firm handshake, upright posture, attentive listening, proper clothing, and maintaining eye contact display professionalism, positivity, and confidence.

Positive verbal and nonverbal communication skills can help you significantly in career advancement.

5 tips to hone your nonverbal communication skills during remote work 

Okay, we’ve been talking more about nonverbal communication in the workplace. Then from where did remote work jump in? 

Relax. There are good chances that while you’re reading this article, you’re working remotely. As more and more organizations switch to remote work, it’s easy for people to undermine the importance of nonverbal cues during video calls with team members and bosses. 

nonverbal communication skills during remote work

You should be conscious that your nonverbal communication skills matter as much in the workplace as during virtual meetings. So, that’s why I have incorporated remote work in this article. 

There are chances that you might be sending off negative nonverbal messages unconsciously during video calls. While you might be an excellent oral communicator, if your body language and gestures during virtual meetings do not match with your words then your message loses its weight. 

Let’s check out some tips which can help you take your nonverbal communication skills a notch higher. 

  • Appropriate attire

Now, your team members and manager haven’t seen you in person for a while now. While you might be working in pajamas all day long during remote work, you cannot appear like that in video meetings, especially those that are centered around the project and organizational policies. 

So, dress smartly during video calls. A neat, crisp suit can help you make a strong impression as it shows your sincerity and an uncompromising attitude towards work even as you work from the comfort of your home. 

That said, if your work culture allows you to wear casual clothes during virtual meetings, then go ahead with it but make sure you are wearing a smart outfit. 

  • Be mindful of your body language

Looking around your room while on a video call? Slouching and stretching as you talk? Stop doing these things as people are watching you. Whether you are the organizer or a participant in a video call, you should show a high level of interest and engagement by displaying positive body language. Keeping an upright posture, occasional head nods, and a gentle smile on your face can help you leave a strong impression on other participants. 

  • Look into the camera

In a typical office setting, maintaining steady eye contact is considered a strong nonverbal communication skill that shows a high level of attention you pay to the other person during conversation. Now, in times of remote work, you would need to look into the camera because that’s the way you look straight into the eyes of other participants of a video call. 

  • Do not use your mobile phone

During a video call, keep your mobile phone down and other distracting devices that can draw your attention away anytime. Checking your mobile phone during a virtual meeting can make you appear distracted and uninterested. 

  • Say no to excessive movements and dramatic hand gestures

Keep your body movements calm and minimal during a video call. Some things to avoid are – fidgeting with your pen, shaking your legs excessively, or doing anything that indicates nervousness or boredom. Yes, you can use hands to gesture, but animated hand gestures can distract other participants as you are too close to the camera. 

5 Smart ways to sharpen your nonverbal communication skills in the office

Many companies are now switching back to good old traditional office spaces and employees are now again working together, physically. So, this means that you would need to carry some of your nonverbal communication skills with you to the office, and also add a few more as both working environments vary. 

  • Facial expressions should align with words 

Don’t let your words and facial expressions contradict each other to communicate your message the right way. Having a casual conversation while keeping a gentle smile would portray your right mood then keeping a poker face that might signal your mind is focused somewhere else. 

Similarly, smiling unnecessarily while participating in an urgent team meeting can put you at the risk of being perceived as a careless, insensitive professional. In other words, your facial expressions should align with your tone of voice and the choice of words. 

  • Keep the tone steady

During remote work, you are likely to use texting and instant messaging often but when you are in the office, face-to-face communication is likely to be the most preferred method to exchange information. So, keep your tone, pitch, and volume steady and consistent. 

These paralinguistic factors are considered more impactful than oral communication. While communicating during team meetings, group discussions, or interview sessions, be polite yet firm. Do not speak out loud and keep the pitch of your voice low.  

  • Smart clothing 

While remote workers can afford to work in any type of clothes they want, except during virtual meetings, in-office workers have no such leverage. When you’re working in an office space, you should be smartly dressed in casual or formal clothing, according to your organizational dress code. 

You can tell a lot about a person’s personality based on what he/she wears. For example, turning up to work in well-ironed clothes, clean shoes, and settled hair can show you as a disciplined and committed professional. 

  • Body language

Unlike remote work, people observe you closely as you work with them for 8-10 hours a day in a regular office space. You say a thousand words without saying anything just by your body language. 

Slouched posture may indicate a lack of confidence while standing upright with feet apart exhibit high confidence, authority, and self-assurance. A firm handshake can show high confidence and trust while a loose handshake can indicate uncertainty and nervousness. 

  • Be conscious that signals can be misinterpreted

It’s likely that some of your signals or gestures might be misinterpreted by your coworkers in the workplace. In fact, you can even misread them while communicating with others. 

For example, a person seemingly nodding in approval might be doing this instinctively, out of habit, while you might think that he/she agrees with you on a certain issue. So, if you are unsure of another person’s nonverbal signals, don’t be afraid to ask them if they really meant what you perceived or not. 

  • Keep practicing

If you think that your nonverbal communication skills are not strong and you tend to misread some signals from others then you are not alone in this. Some people are good at correctly interpreting signals from others because they have practiced consistently and mastered this skill. 

You can also excel at nonverbal communication by paying close attention to nonverbal cues and behavior and practicing different types of nonverbal communication with others. 

The Final Thought 

Unless your nonverbal communication skills are up to the mark, you cannot convey your message to listeners with strong intent. We have to be equally good at conveying as well as interpreting the nonverbal actions of others during the conversation. When your body language and actions sync with your words, there are negligible chances for others to misread your message. 

Now that companies are slowly moving back to an in-office work model, it’s important for managers and employees to exhibit fine nonverbal communication skills to reinforce their messages and have a better understanding of each other. 

Whether you work remotely or from the office space, follow these tried and tested tips listed in the article to take your crucial work-related conversations to the next level.  

 Vartika Kashyap
Vartika Kashyap

Vartika Kashyap is the Chief Marketing Officer at ProofHub and has been one of the LinkedIn Top Voices in 2018. Her articles are inspired by office situations and work-related events. She likes to write about productivity, team building, work culture, leadership, entrepreneurship among others and contributing to a better workplace is what makes her click.


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