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Understanding Nonverbal Communication In The Workplace

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We often mean 'what we say' when we talk about 'communication.' Interpersonal communication, however, is far more than the clear and specific spoken words, and the information that they impart. It also includes signals which are expressed through nonverbal communication, whether intentional or not.

Nonverbal communication involves the whole body language that you use as a means of communication. It includes your appearance, posture, facial expressions, eye contact, and all other nonverbal gestures. A voice tone of an individual may also pass on a nonverbal message to others.

It further includes what you wear, how you wear your clothes, and the distance between you and your audience.

What Is Nonverbal Communication In The Workplace

To interact with each other, employees use both verbal and nonverbal communication in the workplace. Both of them are essential and equally important.

However, according to Darlene Price, the author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Result when a person sends a mismatched message--where nonverbal and verbal messages are incongruent—recipients almost always believe the nonverbal cues over the spoken word.

She explains it as follows-

How we say something is more impactful than what we say. In some studies, nonverbal communication has been shown to carry between 65% and 93% more impact than the actual words spoken, especially when the message involves emotional meaning and attitudes.

Let's understand this with an example.

Imagine you see your colleague just had a bad start to her day, and she reached the office with a furious look. She hardly talked to anyone and continued doing her job with a grim-face. Seeing her behavior, you ask her if she is alright, to which she replies," I am fine!" but angrily.

Now, which message will you believe here- her verbal communication (her words) or her nonverbal message (her behavior and voice tone)?

Price says-

Most likely, you will believe the nonverbal message.

And rightly so, isn't it?

However, nonverbal communication in the workplace can convey different messages and meanings. Let's say, while a hug or pat on the back with one colleague could be acceptable behavior, it could create great offense to another.

Daniel Post Senning, the author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business, once said-

Generally speaking, unless you're sure it's going to be OK to hug someone, stick with a handshake. It's a universally accepted and globally understood gesture of goodwill and friendship.

This is just one example. There are several certain things to avoid inconvenience and confusion in any nonverbal communication in the workplace.

The best thing here is that you can train yourself to send the right ones when you can't stop sending non-verbal cues. Here are eight nonverbal communication signs that can send positive messages, confidence, and credibility in the workplace.

Nonverbal Communication In The Workplace Examples

1. Appropriate facial expressions

Price says-

Each of the seven basic human emotions (anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise) has been scientifically proven to have a certain facial expression associated with it.

She adds-

Because your facial expressions are closely tied to emotion, they are often involuntary and unconscious. Become aware of what your face is revealing to observers, and choose the expression that matches your intended message," she says.

If you want to convey energy and enthusiasm, allow your face to become more animated. Practice in front of a mirror until it looks and feels natural. To show you're paying attention while listening, hold a very slight smile, nod occasionally, and maintain good eye contact

2. Maintain good eye contact

People who talk face to face while maintaining eye contact gains the trust immediately and vice versa. It expresses involvement and emotional states and helps to relate the message with the receiver. It is also used to assume real and fake interests.

While having a difficult conversation or group discussion, preferably, look straight in their eyes at least two to three seconds before looking away or moving to the next person.

Price says-

Merely glancing at someone for one second or less is known as eye dart and conveys insecurity, anxiety or evasion.

3. Proper hand gestures

A gesture is any physical action helping to convey an idea, an opinion, or a feeling. Unintentional movements like rubbing your nose, caressing your hair, fixing your clothes, putting your hands on your waist, and even waving can unconsciously communicate messages. You can easily avoid these typical distractive mannerisms by being natural, lively, purposeful, and spontaneous.

4. The suitable tone of voice

It's not what you said; it's how you said it.

We all would agree to the above quote.

Apart from the actual words used, there are certain factors such as voice tone, pitch, pacing, pauses, volume, inflection, and articulation. All of these are critically important in both in-person and telephone conversations because it conveys the emotional sense, attitude, and effect.

You can consider recording your conversations and listen to them to identify what the tone of voice expresses.

5. Correct body language

How a person sits or stands or how he moves around, and such other bodily dynamism can convey many symbolic meanings. If you are leaning back comfortably, sitting rigidly on the edge of your seat, or leaning back with your legs crossed, your posture or how you hold yourself will display your emotions and self-confidence.

6. Right touch

As already mentioned above, people vary in their degree of comfort with touch. Cultural norms, too, must be taken into account. Here's what Price has to say about the right touch in the workplace-

In business, the handshake is often the only appropriate expression of touch, so it's critical to have a good one. A good handshake consists of a full and firm handclasp with palms embraced web to web. Shake up and down once or twice, coupled with a sincere smile and eye contact. Avoid the extremes of either a weak, limp handshake or an aggressive bone-crushing one.

She further adds-

Strike the right balance—firm enough to convey confidence yet matched to the strength of the other person. Treat men and women with equal respect when shaking hands. Gender makes no difference, and either may initiate the handshake.

7. Appropriate dressing

Clothing speaks volumes in the workplace for both men and women. It is one of the most crucial aspect in communicating nonverbally and has social significance too. It includes things people wear like jewelry, ties, designer clothes, hats, and eyewear that transmits nonverbal clues as to the personality, background, and financial status of a person.

Price suggests-

Make sure 'business casual' is not 'business careless.' Choose high quality, well-tailored garments that convey professionalism. 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. Avoid showy accessories, busy patterns, tight garments, and revealing necklines.

She adds-

To complement your business attire, take steps to control perspiration; avoid cologne or perfume due to others' possible allergies and sensitivities to smell; ensure fresh breath, and keep nails and hands neatly manicured.

8. A good physical distance

Remember, personal space starts around eighteen inches from someone else. Everything closer than it is seen as too close and too personal, especially in a work environment.

If you go very close to talking to someone while sitting at their desk will generally indicate that you have something to say in confidence. However, getting extremely close or touching someone as you speak could be considered undesirable or even hostile.

How nonverbal communication in the workplace matter?

When used with spoken words, nonverbal communication helps you communicate your messages in a clearer and more significant way. You can use nonverbal communication to accentuate, strengthen, or liven up your conversation with others. In your day to day work, meetings, and even during your lunchtime, it plays a significant role.

Nonverbal communication affects job performance too. It is because the manager's attitude can produce positive or negative employee behaviors. It can directly affect emotions and interests, leading to reduced employee performances, whereas positive nonverbal communication can boost morale and convey interest in each other.

This article is written by Susmita Sarma, a digital marketer at Vantage Circle. She was involved with media relations before shifting her interest in research and creative writing. Apart from being a classical music buff, she keeps a keen interest in anchoring and cooking. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com

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