Whether it’s in the context of work, home or relationships, clear communication is a necessity for success and fulfillment.
However, too many people think about communication as simply a verbal exchange. This limited view is quite problematic as communication involves much more than just words.
A significant aspect of communication that is often neglected is non-verbal communication. This includes hand gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and tone of voice.
According to a research paper from the University of California, we gather 93% of someone’s intended message, emotions and attitudes by way of non-verbal communication. That means that verbal communication may be conveying as little as 7% of the intended meaning. Needless to say, if we ignore 93% of what is being said in a given conversation, then there’s likely going to be a lot of confusion in that interaction.
Unfortunately, non-verbal communication is particularly overlooked and undervalued at the workplace. While there are many possible reasons for this, one of the biggest reasons is probably due to a lack of understanding. Indeed, many of us aren’t explicitly taught how to read and convey non-verbal cues in the same way we’re taught how to read and write.
If you can’t decipher what people are telling you non-verbally, it can adversely affect the way you lead, collaborate, and communicate, and the way you convey your brand and carry yourself professionally.
While this might seem particularly relevant to office and corporate jobs, non-verbal communication skills are relevant to pretty much every field and every industry. Certainly, communication with customers and clients are also important if you want to succeed in business.
In this blog, we’re going to discuss the importance of non-verbal communication training for those in leadership positions and for those who are simply looking to improve their workplace communication.
Different aspects of non-verbal communication
Before anything else, let’s first take a look at the three main aspects of non-verbal communication.
By separating this complex concept into three simple categories, it will become easier for us to understand the intricacies of non-verbal communication and how we can use them to our advantage as professionals.
- Body Language
Body language encompasses your posture, hand gestures, arm position and so on. All of these movements are often used as proxies for your level of self-esteem and/or your level of interest in a particular interaction.
A tall and straight posture, for example, suggests that you are comfortable, confident and alert. On the other hand, poor posture along with crossed arms may suggest nervousness or disinterest.
- Tone of Voice
Tone of voice includes the volume, inflection and speed of your words. Through tone of voice, you can convey emotions, intentions and even your level of conviction.
It can often be difficult to control our tone of voice, especially when we’re experiencing strong emotions. Because of this, those with a developed non-verbal awareness can typically see through someone’s words and recognise their true emotions and intentions. This can be useful in noticing contradictions or congruence in what someone is saying.
- Facial Expressions
Facial expression involves using the muscles in your face to convey emotions. This might include wincing, eye rolling or head shaking. In most cases, it also includes subtle tells such as smiling with or without the eyes or small facial twitches.
Eye contact also falls under this category. Your eyes can show how engaged you are in a conversation, where your attention is and how confident you are in the interaction.
Benefits of non-verbal communication
Improving your non-verbal communication skills, and learning to better read your interlocutor’s non-verbal cues, can provide a range of benefits when it comes to workplace communication.
- Clarify your intended message
Perhaps the biggest benefit of effective non-verbal communication in the workplace is clarity of message. For example, affirmative body language, such as nodding and smiling, can show others that you fully agree with something.
While this might sound obvious and simple, you’d be surprised at how much miscommunication affects workplace relationships. Cultural differences, language idiosyncrasies, fear of superiors and even something like work fatigue can cause a lot of misunderstandings. Therefore, you should do your best to reinforce your message, whether negative or positive, through non-verbal communication.
If you’re working on a project with a team or if you’re liaising with another business, non-verbal cues can be extremely helpful in conveying your confidence in the collaboration. If you’re trying to encourage a team, body language and tone of voice can help you send the message that you’re proud of them and of the work that they’re doing.
Gestural language makes your message more personal and it makes you come across as more sincere.
- Help to understand others
On the other hand, having a solid understanding of non-verbal communication can also help you understand the intentions and emotions of others.
As a leader or simply as a co-worker, it helps to have a firm grasp on what your colleagues are feeling or thinking. Are they uncomfortable with their current workload? Are they happy with the current working environment? You need to be able to address these potential issues if you want to be successful and happy at the workplace.
In particular, you should pay attention to the contradictions between what people are saying and the emotions that they’re displaying. For example, if you ask a subordinate if they are satisfied with their working conditions and they give a positive response, pay attention to their body language. If you see a contradiction between their positive words and their body language, they may be too afraid or uncomfortable to bring up an issue that’s bothering them.
As a leader, it’s your job to notice these things and ensure your workers are given the support that they need. Having an awareness of non-verbal cues can help you do this even if your co-workers don’t explicitly state their needs. The same thing goes for those in the customer/client service departments. Understanding how your patrons feel will allow you to tailor your service to their exact needs.
- Strengthen relationships with colleagues and clients
By understanding others emotionally, you will be able to build stronger and more communicative relationships. Certainly, understanding your colleagues’ concerns and displaying empathy will make them more comfortable with you. This sense of comfort will make your team closer, which can lead to increased morale and improved productivity.
Additionally, affirmative and positive non-verbal messages such as nodding, consistent eye contact, and smiling will also allow you to gain others’ trust more easily. Research shows that those with a more direct gaze are more likely to be seen as more sincere and believable than those who constantly avert their eyes.
This can be extremely valuable if you’re looking to build rapport with your team or if you’re trying to gain the confidence of your clients or patrons.
What is involved in non-verbal communication training?
Through non-verbal communication training, not only will you be able to effectively communicate yourself through body language, you will also be able to read others’ non-verbal cues.
This will allow you to interact with superiors, subordinates, colleagues, clients and customers in a way that’s beneficial to you and other parties involved.
Here are some of the things that you might learn from non-verbal communication training:
- Evaluating and reading one’s body language
- Identifying facial expressions and associated emotions
- Understanding eye contact and movements
- Understanding different communication styles
- How to recognise someone’s intended message
- How to portray a positive message
Non-verbal communication training can be done in-house or through a course provider. In-house training may be more tailored to your industry and team, but it might not be as comprehensive as a course from a professional provider. Also, depending on your provider, the curriculum might be slightly different. Make sure you do some research and make sure that the curriculum is right for you before committing to a particular course.
Though it’s important to be as clear and as sincere as you can with your spoken words, it’s still essential to develop non-verbal communication skills. No matter how much we try to ignore it, the influence of our non-verbal movements is always going to be there. Strong emotions and hidden intents will almost always show through our body language. It’s important to be aware of this and have a solid understanding of non-verbal communication in order to control it and navigate it in a healthy and productive manner.