You can say a lot by not saying anything at all. Imagine two of your coworkers who have very different ways of speaking. It’s not just about what they say and how they sound, right? They probably have different posture, mannerisms, volume of voice, and facial expressions.
Nonverbal communication makes more of an impression than you may realize. In some cases, nonverbal communication says just as much, if not more, than what we speak aloud. Nonverbal communication can express how we truly feel and what we think.
Sometimes, nonverbal communication can happen without our knowing it. You may not realize that you’re sending the wrong message nonverbally. That’s why it’s important to recognize forms of nonverbal communication so you can master the skill at work.
Pay attention to others’ nonverbal signals
One way to improve your own nonverbal communication skills is to start paying attention to the nonverbal signals other people are giving off. Look at other people’s body movements, posture, and gestures. How are your coworkers’ nonverbal behaviors in the workplace different from your friends’ behaviors when you’re hanging out in a restaurant?
When you practice reading the unspoken signals from other people, you’ll learn how to send the right signals yourself.
Make direct eye contact
When speaking or listening to other people, make direct eye contact. It shows the other person or people that you’re absorbing what they say. And when you establish eye contact when speaking to others, you look confident and honest.
Just don’t stare into someone else’s eyes for too long, which can be intimidating and uncomfortable. Eye contact should feel natural for both parties. If you need a good rule of thumb, try breaking eye contact after every 4 to 5 seconds.
We don’t want to sound like your mother by telling you to stop slouching, but she’s right. When you slouch, you look lazy, tired, or uninterested in what someone is saying or what’s happening. Plus, it’s just not good for your health.
Anyone who works in an office has started the day sitting upright and found themselves hunched over at their desks soon after. Good posture takes practice. Stand or sit up straight with your shoulders back. If you work at a desk, make sure the top of your computer screen is at or slightly below eye level so you don’t have to scrunch your neck.
If you’re giving a presentation in front of your boss or coworkers, remember to stand openly and confidently. Shoulders back, chin up, feet planted firmly on the ground. Don’t be afraid to take up space. You’ll not only look confident, but feel confident and powerful too.
Be mindful of your facial expressions
Facial expressions are a key factor in nonverbal communication. Because they’re usually universal, they typically convey the same message all over the world despite the language. You’ll know someone is happy or content if they’re smiling. If they’re frowning, they’re angry or upset.
Because your facial expressions display your emotions, be mindful of how you use them. Make sure your facial expression is appropriate to the situation. For example, it wouldn’t be appropriate to roll your eyes or grin during a serious performance review with your boss. Be serious when the occasion calls for it, and smile when the conversation allows.
Check your tone of voice and sounds you make
Like facial expressions, your vocal sounds and tone of voice can make a much bigger impression than what you’re actually saying. Do you often sigh when you’re feeling impatient or tired? Do you resort to grunting or making noises as a reply when you’re spoken to? These sounds can convey annoyance, sarcasm, or disinterest.
We can’t really control the quality and pitch of our voices, but you can make an effort to use your voice as best you can. Speak at an appropriate volume, whether you’re at your desk, in a meeting, or giving a presentation. Ending your sentences at an upward inflection can make you seem hesitant, while speaking in a monotone can make you seem cold and unfriendly. Try using a confident tone with natural inflections and emphasis. It can take some practice if you’re not used to it.
Be aware of personal space
Is there a coworker on your team who stands way too close to everyone when they speak? First of all, we’re sorry. But that’s a good example of someone who isn’t always aware of their nonverbal communication.
Be aware of other people’s personal space. If you’re standing too close to someone, they may back away a few steps, angle their body away from yours, or avoid making eye contact. Standing too close to other people can be seen as aggressive behavior. Having too much space from the other person, like sitting far away from your boss during a meeting, can have a similar effect. Too much distance can make you feel small and unimportant.
Look to other people’s proximity to each other if you’re not sure how much personal space is appropriate in the situation.
Master the handshake
In western cultures, the handshake is a common physical gesture in the workplace. While there’s still some debate on the politics of a handshake, it’s still a good idea to give a firm and friendly handshake to others regardless of gender. It signals confidence.
Look the other person in the eye and grip their hand firmly, but not tightly. Keep your wrist straight. Shake once or twice while maintaining eye contact and offering a friendly smile.
A good handshake often precedes and ends a meeting in American culture. A weak or overly strong handshake can make a bad first impression and start things off on the wrong foot.
Match the situation
Remember that the nonverbal communication in your workplace will probably be different from your nonverbal behaviors in more casual settings, like going out with friends or spending time at home with family.
Observe how other people dress, speak, gesture, or move in relation to one another in various settings. When you learn how to apply different signals to different situations, you’ll become better at using the right nonverbal communication appropriately.
Practice, practice, and practice some more
Effective nonverbal communication takes practice. You’ll also have to be honest about you speak and come across to others. If you know you have trouble maintaining eye contact or you don’t like the sound of your voice (who does?) this self-assessment can be tough. However, it’s worth it. Mastering nonverbal communication will make you seem confident, friendly, empathetic, and sincere to your coworkers and bosses.