CAREER ADVANCEMENT / JUL. 09, 2014
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How to Master Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace

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Communication is an important part of our lives, especially as it pertains to our interaction in the workplace. Becoming a master of nonverbal communication is vital to maintaining successful relationships with coworkers and improving your daily work experience. Research has suggested that our nonverbal communication encompasses over 60-70% of how we communicate with others. (Source: The Emotion Machine) This article will share the various ways that we nonverbally communicate and it will provide tips on mastering such communication in the workplace.

Example of Evaluating Nonverbal Communication

Basically, most of our communication is done without words and happens subconsciously. However, we are not all proficiently skilled at reading the nonverbal signals others put out there. That causes many misunderstandings. If we were able to master nonverbal communication techniques, we would become more effective communicators at work. If we could look in the mirror while we were lying to someone, we’d see that without realizing it, our eyes are averted from the person we were speaking to. Our nervousness could cause us to fidget and our breathing might become more erratic. As we learn how to better read other peoples nonverbal communication, we gain a clearer perspective of where they are coming from. We can then reciprocate more effectively with our nonverbal communication.

Nine Ways We Communicate Nonverbally

1. Posture – can communicate a message about our current mood and personality. If we maintain an upright posture—whether standing, sitting or walking—that exudes a sign of poise and focus, rather than tiredness, disinterest or low self-esteem. Another type of posture is whether we have an open or closed body stance. Open posture shows that we are invested in the communication process. Closed posture shows our disinterest.

Tip: Practice proper nonverbal communication posture in front of a mirror.   

2. Gestures – are quick movements with our hands, face or other body parts. I was surprised to learn that there are hundreds of gestures that the average person knows and uses on a daily basis. Obviously, this depends on the type of person, the situation and what this person is actually trying to communicate. Some well-known gestures are nodding yes or no, the head tilt, giving the thumbs up sign and waving hello.

Tip: Pay attention to the gestures that people use throughout your daily life.  

3. Facial Expressions – reflect the actual emotions we are experiencing in the moment. Psychologists have termed “micro-expressions” as happening unconsciously and lasting only a fraction of a second. If you learn to catch these subtle expressions, you can perceive what someone else is thinking and feeling and ascertain if he or she is hiding something. Facial expressions are one of the most revealing nonverbal communication skills.

Tip: Pay closer attention to people’s facial expressions when communicating.

4. Tone of Voice – speaks more volumes than our actual words. There are basic differences in our tone of voice from the volume, pitch, rhythm, speed and how we emphasize specific words. For example, a low volume can show that someone is either trying to be quiet on purpose or this person is shy and reserved. A higher volume can show someone is more confident. If someone speaks too fast, they could be nervous.  

Tip: When communicating, begin to pay more attention to the tone of voice others use.

5. Eye Contact – is important to show that you are completely invested into the communication process. If someone makes eye contact with us, we know he or she is paying attention to us and it creates a better conversation. Lack of eye contact can be perceived as someone trying to hide something. Good communication involves having eye contact approximately 60-70% of the time. However, never blinking an eye and maintaining eye contact for the entire time can come off as creepy.   

Tip: Practice the “Triangle Method” to improve your eye contact—which entails focusing on one eye, then the other, then on the person’s mouth and back to the first eye. (Source: Steven Handel)

6. Breathing – while communicating reflects how we are feeling. For example, we may be nervous and breathing more heavily. Steady breathing shows that you are more even keeled and relaxed in the conversation. Take into consideration the situation and what the person is responding to and that will bring someone’s breathing pattern into perspective.  

Tip: Pay attention to breathing patterns when communicating and you might get a clue as to what is on someone’s mind.

7. Touch – benefits our relationships. However in a work environment, there is a balance that needs to be found within personal space and proper professional behavior. Touch is used to communicate what we are thinking and how we are feeling. Of course, especially as it pertains to the workplace, we need to avoid harassment in the form of touch.

Tip: Find that balance between professional and personal touch.

8. Proximity – in nonverbal communication pertains to our comfort level with regard to personal space. Social Scientist, Edward T. Hall identified that we all have four different levels of proximity—intimate, personal, social and public space. For example, we will let a romantic partner into our personal space rather than letting a coworker in. We need to recognize the proper proximity distance depending on the communication situation we find ourselves in.

Tip: Learn the differences between the 4 proximity levels and bring that knowledge into your communication situations in the workplace.

9. Congruence – involves putting all of the nonverbal communication components together into a cohesive process. All of the steps work together, not separately. A group of signals are subconsciously utilized in each interaction. However, when signals don’t match up, people see that as confusing.

Tip: Try to consciously match up your signals (tone of voice, posture and eye contact etc.) with how you are truly feeling and with the message you want to send out.

Resources How to Master Nonverbal Communication

Nick Morgan from Public Words shares some wisdom on mastering nonverbal communication. He stated that “every speech is two conversations, the verbal and the nonverbal, and you need to be in control of both.” He further explained that when both factors are aligned, we can become persuasive. If we fail to align both factors, he shared that our “audience believes the nonverbal every time.”

Nonverbal communication is an extremely important and often forgotten part of the communication process. As stated in this article, there are nine ways that we communicate nonverbally. Remember that the nonverbal signals do not work alone, but within a grouping. The entire process works well when the verbal and nonverbal factors are aligned.

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