Have you ever been with someone who insists that they are “fine” while their actions tell a different story? They might have an angry look on their face. They might be slamming things around. They might not be talking, when they normally are very chatty. The message we are receiving is that they are not fine.
Research has shown that around 75-93% of a message is non-verbal. That means the words we use are only a small part of effective communication.
Nonverbal cues can substitute for, contradict, emphasize or regulate verbal messages. Your non-verbal cues tell the other person whether or not you care, if you’re being truthful and how well you’re listening.
If there's a difference between your verbal and nonverbal cues, people tend to put more weight to the nonverbal message. Nonverbal communication should reinforce what you're saying—not contradict it. If you say one thing and your body language says something else, your listener might think you’re being dishonest.
It's important to recognize that it's our nonverbal communication—our facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture and tone of voice—that speak the loudest. The ability to understand and use nonverbal communication, or body language, is a powerful tool that can help you connect with others, express what you really mean, and build better relationships. Here are some non-verbal cues you should consider if you want to appear confident in the workplace.
What does the tone of your voice sound like? Does it reflect emotion? Confidence? Assurance? Maybe your tone reflects fear. Or it might project warmth, confidence and interest. A repeatedly critical, snarky, disappointed, worried or reproachful tone can really effect a conversation.
Put feeling into what you're saying. Include an element of excitement, motivation or thrill into the things you're conveying to others, like when you're complimenting a person or their work.
Do your inflections have patterns? When you think about the key points you want to emphasize, make sure the inflections of your voice do just that. Inflection alone can change the meaning of a sentence. Some people use a questioning tone, which suggests they lack confidence in what they are saying.
Voice Pitch and Volume
Does your voice go up and down at the right times? Are you speaking too softly or too loud? A monotone voice suggests that you're bored with your audience or with your message. It suggests you don't care much how your listeners respond. Use changes in volume to prevent your voice from slipping into monotonous sameness and to alert your audience to the nuances of your message.
How fast do you speak, and how appropriate is your speed to your audience? A need to speak without pausing can make people feel uncomfortable and impatient. People tend to be more attracted to a speaker who talks with adequate pauses. This gives a sense of authority and confidence in what is being said.
Do you appear nervous based on how you are breathing? Take a deep breath, and slow your pace down. Be careful not to show signs of impatience or irritation like sighing or muttering under your breath. These are not friendly noises, and they can undermine your attempt to sound friendly.
Look at yourself in the mirror as you are thinking of conversations you've had. What is your face really saying? The human face is extremely expressive. You can express countless emotions without saying a word. And unlike some forms of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are universal. The facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust are the same across cultures.
Is your body relaxed or stiff and immobile? Are your arms crossed? How far are you standing from the person you are talking to? When you're interested in what someone is saying, lean in to show interest. Leaning out shows indifference, distrust or dislike. But make sure you still respect personal space. You also communicate by the way you stand. It's best to stand facing the person you're talking to because standing at an angle signals an unconscious desire to get away.
What do your hands do when you talk? We wave, point, beckon and use our hands when we’re arguing or speaking animatedly. We often express ourselves with gestures without thinking. However, the meaning of gestures can be very different across cultures and regions, so it’s important to be careful to avoid misinterpretation. Nodding is a simple gesture that tells people that you are interested and encourages them to continue speaking. Having arms crossed are sometimes read as defensive and closed. Putting your hands over your mouth can convey uncertainty in what you're saying.
Are you making eye contact when you have conversations? If so, is it overly intense or just right? It's important to avoid staring fixedly as many people find this rude. Be sure we break away from eye contact every three to five seconds. Since the visual sense is dominant for most people, eye contact is an especially important type of nonverbal communication. The way you look at someone can communicate many things, including interest, affection, hostility or attraction. Eye contact is also important in maintaining the flow of conversation and for gauging the other person’s response.
It's important to be mindful not just of the words we say, but also what verbal cues we're telling. Examine these areas to help improve your communications skills. And remember, actions speak louder than words.