Communication is one of the most important keys to building long-lasting relationships in a professional environment. It fulfills three important functions in an organization:
- Transmitting information
- Understanding emotions
- Coordinating employees’ effort
As someone working in HR, you would be keeping a close eye on your employees’ communication skills. And while you communicate with employees regularly, you may tend to ignore their non-verbal cues.
Non-verbal cues can help HR in the following:
- Making informed hiring decisions
- Understanding employees better and help build a rapport with them
- Identifying workplace issues
This article will help you understand non-verbal communication, its types, and suggest ways to improve it in the workplace.
What is Non-Verbal Communication?
Non-verbal communication is a way of sending and receiving messages without using words. Also called manual language, it is a way of conveying a message through body language, eye contact, body posture, facial expressions, appearance, and the physical distance between you and your audience.
As a human, you are made up of emotions such as anger, aggression, sadness, happiness, and hope. You experience and observe some of these regularly. Your employees might feel that they have mastered the art of faking them well, but that may not be true. That is because humans cannot maintain conscious control over them.
For instance, your colleague shows up late for work. As she enters the office, she throws her bag on the desk and sits at the edge. She stares at her phone for a while and eventually cradles her head in her hands. You sense something is wrong and ask her. She responds with, “I’m fine., I just didn’t sleep properly last night.”
What are you most likely to believe? Her words or her actions?
According to Darlene Price, author of ‘Well Said! Presentation and Conversations that Get Results!’ your non-verbal cues are more powerful than spoken words. When the verbal message is inconsistent with non-verbal cues, people are more likely to believe the non-verbal cues.
What Percentage of Communication Is Non-Verbal?
Non-verbal communication is likely to carry between 65% and 93% more weightage than spoken words. This is because approximately 97% of your communication is non-verbal, while only 3% is verbal. These numbers demonstrate the importance of non-verbal behavior in the workplace.
The Importance of Non-Verbal Cues in a Workplace
You communicate with your colleagues throughout the day, either verbally or nonverbally. But people around you are more mindful of your non-verbal cues.
A slouched posture in a meeting exhibits a lack of confidence and may leave a negative impact on the manager. A furrowed eyebrow during a discussion depicts confusion, while a subtle smile conveys a message of affirmation and clarity on the topic being discussed.
Crossed arms during a meeting, sweaty palms, and inappropriate attire may reflect badly on you. It can signal a lack of confidence, casual attitude, defensiveness, and nervousness which is likely to make people question your talents.
On the other hand, a firm handshake, the right posture, and formal attire may demonstrate professionalism, confidence, positivity, and commitment towards work.
I am sure you’ll agree that building trust at the workplace is critical to the success of you as an individual and your organization. But how is this related to non-verbal communication? Well, turns out, it pretty much is.
For instance, your boss asks you to attend a meeting on their behalf. You make it to the meeting but fail to fully grasp the topic being discussed. That is because, throughout the meeting, you were busy on your phone, hardly participated in the discussion, and didn’t listen attentively.
Upon returning to the office, you are asked to present the meeting points. When you failed to do so, what impression did you create on your boss? A distinct lack of credibility and trustworthiness.
Matching non-verbal communication with spoken words will develop long-lasting relationships with your vendors, stakeholders, and customers.
As a manager, you need to be mindful of the non-verbal signals you send out because they directly affect the performance, motivation, and morale of subordinates. Make sure to lend a listening ear when needed. Greet them with a smile and a handshake when in the office. Maintain a firm but polite tone, subtle eye contact during meetings, and an appropriate physical distance during face-to-face interactions.
Positive non-verbal messages will help boost employee satisfaction, decrease absenteeism and turnover rate and increase productivity. You must understand and hone your non-verbal communication for it is known to add professionalism, energy, and the right attitude to your work performance and your colleagues.
The Types of Non-Verbal Communication
Facial expressions easily depict emotions such as anger, happiness, and fear. A smiling or frowning face speaks volumes more than the actual words.
It is one of the essential tools to develop trustworthiness and a connection with your employees. It helps engage effectively with your audience. Maintaining eye contact during conversation with an occasional nod demonstrates affirmation and willingness to help.
Constructive hand gestures can add richness and meaning to the spoken word. Unconscious use like stroking hair, playing incessantly with rings, tapping, and pointing may cause distractions.
Body Language and Posture
How you sit, stand, or walk signifies confidence, authority, energy, and self-assurance. Watch out for these in potential candidates and employees.
Do you know what’s more important than the spoken word? It’s the tone, volume, and speed with which you speak. Paralinguistics determines whether your verbal communication is congruent with non-verbal communication. A mismatch between the two undermines trust.
Dressing plays an integral role in the workplace and is an important aspect of non-verbal communication.
Techniques to Improve Non-Verbal Communication
Below are a few examples of non-verbal cues that you may encounter every day at work and a few tips to improve them.
Steady Eye Contact
Did you know that you can tell a lot about your prospective employees during an interview by observing their eye movements? You want a candidate that makes eye contact with you during the interview and doesn’t just stare. This means that the person is confident and prepared.
Your prospective employee should also be an active listener. Leaning slightly towards you during the interview can indicate interest and inclination towards work.
Facial Expressions and Words to Match
A mismatch between words and facial expressions represents conflict. During an interview, look out for congruence between verbal messages and facial expressions. If the two are misaligned, it signals that the prospective employee is lying or feeling uncomfortable.
Facial expressions are incredibly important when resolving conflicts or workplace issues. For instance, if you are questioning an employee who has been charged for harassment, you should pay more attention to non-verbal cues.
Keep a hawk’s eye for any mismatch between verbal vs no verbal messages. A perspiring forehead, a frown, and a smiling face can express a lot more than the actual words.
Animated Hand Gestures
A candidate during an interview sits with arms crossed and answers all your questions in a monotonous fashion. What impression does that make?
Naturally, of someone nervous, defensive or underconfident. Will you hire this individual? Probably not. Why?
Because you would want to hire someone who radiates a positive attitude, zeal, and zest for the job.
Confident Posture and Body Language
Posture is a significant part of your body language. An employee sitting with a slouched posture maybe someone with low self-esteem and confidence. Sitting straight with arms by the side and standing tall with feet apart exhibits power, self-assurance, and authority.
As an HR professional, you study a prospective employee apart from an interview setting. If a candidate in the lobby is sitting with a slouched posture that may mean a lack of confidence. Your doubt gets confirmed when you shake hands. Fidgety and sweaty.
You would have probably made up your mind even before you started interviewing. You are unlikely to hire this person.
Posture and body language are also considered important when making decisions to extend permanent employment to interns. Those who demonstrate effective non-verbal cues such as sitting straight, standing tall along with other non-verbal signals have a high chance of being given a permanent position.
Therefore, pay attention to these non-verbal cues. You would not want to lose high potential employees.
Physical appearance is an important depiction of a person’s personality. But more so, it is one of the strongest indicators of attitude towards work.
You must follow the work culture in terms of dressing. If a certain work culture allows for casual dressing that’s great.
However, if you work in a setting requiring its employees to show up in formal attire, there is no escape. You can tell a lot about a person’s attitude and personality based on physical appearance. A candidate who shows up in a crumpled shirt and dirty shoes for an interview will most likely not make it through.
Part of your verbal communication includes tone, sounds, volume, and pauses. These factors are called paralinguistic and are more impactful than spoken communication. Your choice of tone speaks more volume than the actual words. How you say something leaves a stronger impression than what you say.
HR interacts with potential and permanent employees regularly. Your tone, pitch, and volume matter a great deal.
Whether you conduct training sessions, recruitment drives at universities, or interviews, try staying mindful of your vocal tone. Stay polite. Answer questions patiently. During training sessions, try speaking at an appropriate pace. Take measured pauses in between and allow others to participate.
Avoid speaking in a high-pitch as it may send out a message of anger or aggression. Similarly, sighing during the conversation may indicate disagreement or boredom.
The Cultural Differences in Non-Verbal Communication
An advantage of non-verbal communication is that you can learn to interpret it over time and exercise conscious control.
However, there is a disadvantage as well.
Non-verbal communication varies across cultures. A non-verbal message such as a thumbs-up might be interpreted differently in different cultures. As an HR professional, you should educate your employees on this to ensure smooth communication.
Here are a few examples of non-verbal cues that are specific to certain cultures:
- Italians tend to speak animatedly using big hand gestures at the workplace. That is how they normally work. However, it would be interpreted differently in the UK & USA, where non-verbal communication is more subtle.
- The thumbs-up gesture demonstrates approval or affirmation in many English-speaking countries. However, in countries such as Greece, Italy, or some Middle Eastern countries, it may be considered offensive.
- In western cultures, it is acceptable to make a circle with your thumb and forefinger. It means OK. But the same gesture signifies money in Japan.
- Although strong eye contact indicates confidence in the West, it can be considered rude and off-putting in Asia and the Middle East.
- In many parts of Europe, it is considered professional to greet someone with pecks on either cheek. But in the United States, this is frowned upon as too much physical contact.
- Thankfully, facial expressions for happiness, anger, and sadness are universal. But not all cultures like to express them in business settings. In certain parts of Asia like Japan always try to remain expressionless in business settings because they believe emotions can burden the opposite party.
- It isn’t enough to not slouch in some cultures. Sitting cross-legged in Japan is seen as disrespectful in the presence of elders or management.
The Final Verdict on How to Improve Non-Verbal Communication in the Workplace
Whether you are looking for an employee that matches the job description, training, and mentoring employees, or conducting recruitment drives, you need to learn to interpret non-verbal signals.
As an HR professional, you are responsible to look for employees that are the best fit for the job as well as the organization. Therefore, you must stay conscious of a candidate’s non-verbal communication.
Once you understand and learn to interpret non-verbal cues, you will be able to resolve workplace issues, build a rapport with employees and improve the overall communication flow in your organization.