If you are lacking in the skill of nonverbal communication decoding, here are just a few things that you will miss out on if you don't pay close attention to what everyone is not saying. For instance:
1. The ability to tell who is honest — and who is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
Wouldn't it be great to know who is being up front with you and who is just humouring you and your efforts? Understanding the people around you and their motivations is key to your success. Watching how key players interact with each other also speaks volumes. Armed with this skill you will have the upper hand in all communications.
2. The ability to communicate who you really are without words.
We don't often get the chance to explain who we are and what drives us at work. Sometimes we don't even get a chance to speak in meetings. What if you could clearly demonstrate who you are and what you are capable of doing without saying a word? You will be surprised at how much you've divulged about yourself once you have learned how to effectively speak nonverbally.
3. The confidence gained by knowing how to navigate interpersonal relationships at work.
Knowing how to read non-verbal cues will give you the confidence to act in certain arenas, whereas previously you might have been hesitant. For instance, you will know when to begin and end conversations so that your message lands succinctly. You will know how to align yourself with like-minded colleagues to ensure you are on the winning team.
The possibilities are endless.
Nonverbal communication is the only communication that you can truly rely on because these cues are innate. I think it is fair to say we have all been on the receiving end of someone who is telling us one thing, but their body is telling us something else. We just know it because as humans we are hard-wired to pick up on social cues. We all communicate non-verbally throughout the day without even realizing we are doing it. Rolling your eyes communicates exactly what you think it does, as does looking at your watch repeatedly. So let's look at a few key elements of nonverbal communication methods.
A gesture is a specific movement that reinforces a verbal message. A gesture can be made with the head, shoulders, and even your legs; however, the majority involves your arms and hands, backed up by the right facial expressions as well. Gestures should be natural, meaningful and spontaneous. A gesture must not be vague, stiff or premeditated — whether that's a hand gesture or a gesture of any sort. As a demonstration of this, take a look at any presidential address given by both Obama and Trump. If you couldn't hear what they were saying, which one would you say appears more authentic and/or genuine?
Eyes are a huge form of communication. I don't want to freak you out, but the eyes say everything! Maintaining eye contact instills trust, looking down, up and sideways communicates everything you don't want to say, at least not if the encounter is important to you. We have all been on the receiving end of distracted eyes, and I would wager we have all engaged in the same behavior to extricate ourselves from certain individuals. If you have, then you already know the importance of eye messages.
Tone of Voice
When I am training a group of people, or lecturing students and I bring up the subject of tone of voice, I simply ask them to recall a class or a meeting where the speaker droned on in a monotonous voice that nearly put them to sleep. Everyone instantly understands. How would you rate your tone of voice? If you aren't really sure (because what we hear is different from what everyone else hears), then ask a couple of people to rate your tone, your inflections, and pitch. Putting people to sleep, looking at their watches or gesturing towards the door is not what you want when communicating.
Facial expressions say so much and because they seem to be such a natural response to things we are hearing or seeing, it is extremely important to be aware of them in the workplace. As I said earlier, looking at your watch repeatedly in a meeting when your boss is droning on about something will communicate your annoyance, which will in turn annoy your boss. Unless, of course, your intention was to piss him or her off. Rolling your eyes when a colleague is explaining their contribution to a group project is disrespectful and immature. Is that really the message you want to send in a professional setting? So it is key that we keep certain facial expressions from morphing onto your face in certain situations. Maintaining a poker face can work to your advantage.
Your Personal Space
Physical space is telling. Here I am referring to both the comfort zone of personal space when speaking with someone, as well as your personal space, i.e. your desk, office or cubicle. That comfortable bubble we all have as our perimeters is unique to everyone, but the universal unspoken code is not to 'invade' another person' s space. However, some individuals are clueless about this and literally get in your space while you slowly inch your way backwards to maintain your bubble, only to have this clueless individual inch forward to maintain their invasion. Getting too close is a sign of aggression, and it is often saved for that reason alone, but if there is no aggression, then it is a sign of disrespect. This person has no boundaries. If they are willingly getting in your space each time you speak with them, you have to wonder what other boundaries they will trespass.
Your personal work space, albeit personal, speaks volumes to management. If you think having a cluttered work space shows how busy you are, think again. A disorganized work area reveals disorganized thinking, right or wrong, this is what it communicates, and if you are in an environment where the higher-ups manage by 'walkabout', this is exactly what they look at, I know, because this is also my management style and it hasn't proven me wrong yet. In conversations with staff and colleagues there seems to be this misconception that if your work area is neat or sparse, then management will think you are not busy enough and give your more work, when is reality it shows that you are concentrating on the task at hand instead of spreading your attention in all directions.
So how do you fill the void of the three statements mentioned above and gain the skills necessary to master each?
We need to be congruent. The absolute most important aspect of all communications is congruency. If we want to communicate to others who we are, we need to show them. Nonverbal communication is louder than words. It doesn't necessarily matter what is coming out of our mouths if our nonverbal cues don't match the content.
If you tell someone they have your undivided attention, but they can see your feet pointing towards the door, or you are not maintaining eye contact, they know you're lying just because of your body movement. If you tell someone you 'feel great' today and they can see that you are about to melt down, they will deem you untrustworthy.
On the flipside, if you want to know if someone is telling the truth, look for congruency in their verbal and nonverbal messages. For example, and this is a personal experience of mine; when a CEO tells employees that their jobs will be secure in the event of a merger and cannot maintain eye contact with anyone, it's time to freshen up your CV.
In terms of communicating who you really are nonverbally you also need to be congruent, even when you don't want to be. This is where we have to fake-it sometimes. If your boss is enthusiastic about appointing you as head of a particular project, and all you can think is that you'd rather get waxed than be a part of it, you need to put on that smile and accept graciously. No eye rolling, no negative comments, nada. Sometimes we just have to do things we don't want to do, but if we do them with a smile and achieve the projected outcome, then we will also communicate we are reliable and 'willing to take one for the team'.
Communicating who you are within your organization is also very important in standing out from the crowd. Management will not be looking at 'how' you got something done, but rather your attitude and professionalism, which must be congruent and consistent. They will look at how you aligned yourself with key people to get the job done. They will look at how you motivated others. They will look at the quality of the finished product. All these factors will communicate who you are, and more importantly, your career's longevity and upward movement within the organization.
Heidi Crux is the author of Public Speaking Simplified and Demystified. Communication Basics to Create Lasting Impressions. Heidi is a graduate of Dale Carnegie Training with over 25 years of experience both in and out of the boardroom teaching communication basics and management principles at the university level. As a trainer and coach Heidi conducts seminars and workshops upon request as well as public speaking engagements.