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Improve Workplace Communication by Paying Attention to Non-Verbal Language

It’s fair to say that the most effective leaders are also exceptional communicators.

According to authors: Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, and Melinda Smith “Effective communication is about more than just exchanging information. It's about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. As well as being able to clearly convey a message, you need to also listen in a way that gains the full meaning of what’s being said and makes the other person feel heard and understood.”

Effective communication is like a pitch and catch scenario where a leader must not only pay attention to what they are delivering, what they are tossing out in their message; they must also pay attention to what they are receiving, the cues delivered and pivot their communication approach as necessary.

Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, shares that communication is broken into three modes; nonverbal communication (our body language), verbal communication (the actual words that we use and say) and para verbal communication (how you say what you say and how loud or soft you speak).

Professor Mehrabian did extensive research and distinguished between the various modes of communication and attempted to understand which mode communicates the loudest.

Mehrabian’s research suggested that those modes fell into the following order of communicating messages; assuming you are speaking to someone in person.

Nonverbal communication speaks 55% of your message.

Para verbal communication speaks 38% of your message. And

Verbal communications convey 7% of your message.

Does Mehrabian’s research infer that what you say, your words, don’t matter? No, words do matter. However, what this ratio does imply is that focusing on your words is not as important as your other modes of communication such as your body language and para verbal messages.

How can this information be useful? If you know that your body language communicates more than half of your message, then focusing on your physiology can assist you in bringing a consistent message and presenting yourself in your intended manner.

How many times have you experienced someone speaking to you and the words that they were saying did not match their nonverbal cues. For example, has your boss ever asked for your opinion on a project but kept looking at her watch, tapping her foot and sighing simultaneously? Did you get mixed messages from all her modes of communication? And did you get the sense from her body language that she really wanted to hear your opinion? Probably not.

Her words said “Yes” but her body messages said “No”.

Could your communication effectiveness improve if you focused on your body language?

David Johnson, a social psychologist, author of Reaching Out, Interpersonal Effectiveness and Self-Actualization notes that all “nonverbal behavior communicates. If it is observed, it communicates.”

If you are willing to look your body language to strengthen your communication skills, pay attention to these seven areas:

Body orientation: Your body orientation note the degree to which you are facing toward or away from the person that you are speaking.

Posture: Your body position as you are standing, sitting or walking.

Gestures: Your gestures and the movement of your hands, arms and head.

Facial expressions and eye movements: The emotional expressions that your face and eye movements convey whether it is surprise, enthusiasm, disgust, happiness etc.

Touch: Any type of touch. There are various forms of nonverbal communication through touch. If you are a hairdresser there may be functional touch. You may use social touch when you shake someone’s hand when you meet or see them. There is also friendly touch, like a pat on the back. There can be aggressive touch like a shove or a sexual touch like a kiss. It is important that leaders choose any type of touch with discernment. In professional settings, physical touch must remain professional and respectful.

Clothing/Attire: The type of clothes, jewelry, accessories, etc. communicate a message of a perceived level of your economic status, social position, level of success, attitude etc.

Use of space and distance: How close and/or how far away you stand from someone. The physical boundaries that you set as parameters between you and the other person.

Effective communication skills are built on your attention to your nonverbal messages. Increase your body language awareness in the seven areas noted above by paying attention to them, shifting and pivoting them as necessary.

The next time that you ask someone on your team for their opinion on a project, do so in a sincere way. You can demonstrate that by sitting down in their office and being at the same eye level, facing them with your head, feet and body, folding your hands on your lap, looking at them intently and listening. You will have conveyed a genuine an authentic message to them that their opinion matters to you.


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