Non-verbal behaviors—the involuntary physical and vocal nuances that accompany verbal communication—transmit subtle messages that influence how others interpret our words. Researchers estimate that nonverbal communication represents two-thirds of the total communication we engage in with others. In today’s open work spaces, half-walled cube farms and cramped meeting rooms, office employees are constantly engaged in non-verbal communications. How can we ensure that we are sending the right signals to our coworkers, our clients and our bosses throughout the day? Let’s take a look at a few non-verbal cues that can lead to trouble as well as some remedies:
(1) Distracting and defensive gestures
Physical movements that convey ideas or emotion should be natural, open and have a positive purpose. Be careful not to cross your arms defensively, and try to match your body movements with your message. Avoid common distracting mannerisms such as fidgeting or tapping surfaces or playing with your hair, even while sitting at your desk. Such behaviors are especially off-putting during meetings, either in person or during a video conference.
(2) Lack of eye contact
While there is considerable debate over who originally claimed the eyes are the window to the soul, we can all attest to the power of eye contact. By denying the gaze of others, you can appear uninvolved, disinterested and even cold. And don’t think you’re getting off easy with just a quick glance. A split second of eye contact—also known as an “eye dart” or “stammering eye”—conveys anxiety or discomfort that others might read as evasiveness or dishonestly. Be sure that you project warmth and reinforce your commitment to the communication by looking directly into your audience’s eyes for at least two to three seconds while speaking directly to them.
(3) Furrowed brows and funky faces
Our face’s contortions, creases and furrows—which contribute to our facial “character” as we age—are by-products of the seven basic human emotions (anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise). The undercurrent of emotion we may be experiencing inside—stress about a report that’s overdue or personal concerns that are bleeding into our workday—surfaces without our having to speak a single word. If we regularly allow our countenance to be weary or pensive, those around us may start withdrawing, assuming a negative personality where there isn’t one. If you aren’t sure what neutral looks like, practice a relaxed “listening face” in front of the mirror. Take a few deep breaths as you gaze into your own eyes, and then reset your features to conjure a subtle smile and soft eyes.
(4) Poor posture
Slouching is a common modern-day affliction. This means that standing out from the crowd is easier than ever. Good posture sends a non-verbal message of self-assurance and confidence. Whether you’re sitting at the computer, slouched in your iPhone prayer or walking the halls, roll your shoulders back and elongate your spine. By consciously reminding yourself to sit straight and walk tall, you craft a stronger, more positive presence and express an alert energy to those around you.
(5) Informal and sloppy attire
Okay, so Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoodie. But until you invent the next Facebook, investing in well-made, well-tailored garments is an investment in your career. Depending on your corporate culture, wear a business suit or at least a jacket for important meetings and presentations, especially with senior leaders and customers. You don’t have to be showy; polish is the key. Know the accessories and style that communicate your personality and work those into a professional wardrobe. And remember, this behavior is much easier to improve than posture.
(6) Device distraction
When you attend in-person meetings, try to leave your smartphone at your desk; if you can’t, be sure to turn it on vibrate and not check email unless it’s urgent. Give the attendees in the meeting your full attention. And when speaking, square your shoulders toward anyone you are speaking directly with and lean into the conversation as you actively listen. Whether you’re in a formal meeting or in a hallway conversation, always honor those you’re speaking with by attentively listening.
(7) Smile to spread happiness
Smiles are probably the single best non-verbal communication you can make. They represent a genuinely positive, foundational and contagious form of non-verbal communication. Dr. Freitas-Magalhaes studied the effect of smiling in the treatment of depression and concluded that depressive states decrease when patients actively smile. The more we smile, the better we feel…and the better those around us feel as well. Smiling is one of the most powerful non-verbal ways we humans communicate closeness and approval to those around us.
Imagine if we could share more positive, energetic and confident communications with our friends and loved ones by retraining ourselves and relearning a few simple behaviors. Try smiling more and see if it makes a difference in the way you feel and the way others respond to you. And be sure to share your stories with us.
Would you like to learn more about the trends of video interviews and the impact non-verbal communication has in this virtual environment? Don’t miss this article for more tips on improving your interview techniques and polishing your approach.