Nonverbal Communication Is Crucial for Managers — Here Are 4 Ways to Improve Yours

Woman giving a presentation


Ramona Shaw
Ramona Shaw
May 19, 2024 at 5:37PM UTC
Has someone ever said something to you that you didn’t quite trust was the truth?  It's likely that what was communicated verbally did not match the non-verbal communication. When this mismatch happens, the intentional or even unintentional non-verbal communication resonates more, which can have negative consequences.
Mismatching cues can cause false impressions. For example, if a team member is resting his face in the palm of his hand during a meeting, he might look as if he is bored. In reality, he might be thinking the complete opposite. Maybe he’s tired, or that position simply helps him focus. However, when others read into his non-verbal communication, he leaves an unintentional message which can negatively influence the team dynamic.
It can also cause a loss of credibility. If someone’s nonverbal language tells a different story than their spoken language, people’s alarm bells go off. For example, if you’re giving positive feedback to an employee but you relay the good news with a low, monotone voice, there is a good chance that the feedback receiver won’t believe your words, and may even lose confidence in your ability to help them advance.
To help you prevent these issues, here are 4 tips on clear non-verbal communication (which is particularly important for managers who must build team trust and communicate effectively):

1. Maintain eye contact. 

The proverb “the eyes are the window to the soul” is cheesy, yes. But its also true. We can make sense of people’s emotions through their eye contact (or lack thereof). Maintaining eye contact during conversations with colleagues or team members will help you build trust and respect. It lets them know that you are listening and that you care. It also demonstrates confidence in what you are saying.
It sounds simple enough, but we can get easily distracted by people walking by or a notification popping up on the screen, and our gaze can wander. Putting your best effort into maintaining eye contact is a good start to building a good relationship.

2. Keep your hands visible.

Believe it or not, the first thing people see when they look at you is not your face; it’s your hands. Our hands reveal a lot about us.
Exposed hands, for example, are a sign of honesty, while hidden hands can give off the impression that you have something to hide or that you’re withholding information. In your day-to-day work life scenarios, whether it be giving feedback to a team member or presenting a new business strategy to your team, it’s best to leave your hands where they can see them.
The power to earn trust is in the palm of your hands. Here are a few tips to getting your hand gestures to say what you're feeling:
  1. Expose your palms: It’s a sure sign of trustworthiness, openness, and honesty.
  2. Keep palms facing down: This demonstrates strength and assertiveness.
  3. Pretend you’re holding a basketball: This indicates confidence and control.

3. Pay attention to your voice.

The tone of your voice is probably not the first thing that came to your mind when you thought about non-verbal communication. However, communication specialists say that we communicate seven percent with actual words, 55 percent with body language and a solid 38 percent with our tone of voice. 
Paying attention to how you use your voice in your communication is important. Start by observing yourself. If you have a presentation coming up, practice your speech by recording yourself on your phone and then listen to your tone of voice and avoid the question inflection. When your voice goes up at the end of a statement (as if you’re asking a question), it appears as though you are questioning yourself, which will make you look less assured as a leader. 

4. Earn more trust with the help of engaged body language.

Everyone displays a certain body language when talking. Here are 5 ways to leverage this non-verbal part of your communication to gain more trust from the people you’re speaking to:
  1. Lean in when you speak and when you listen to show engagement.
  2. Nod your head to show that you’re listening.
  3. Sit or stand up straight.  A slumped posture demonstrates disinterest or lack of confidence.
  4. Keep your arms uncrossed, your legs unfolded and your torso facing forward to show that you’re open.
  5. Stand in a wide position — about shoulder width apart — to demonstrate confidence.
Nonverbal communication may not make or break your leadership, but taking the time to become more self-aware about your emotions and body language will certainly help you build better relationships at work. At its essence, communication has such a strong impact on the results we get in every aspect of our lives that we cannot afford to do it poorly. Start with the one tip you found most helpful and see where it takes you.

This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Ramona Shaw is a leadership coach and trainer helping new managers become the boss people love to work for. She believes that professional success needs to co-exist with success in all other areas of life to create lasting high performance and happiness. Ramona helps new leaders strengthen their leadership habits, avoid the common pitfalls of management, give effective feedback, and take charge of their day so they can effectively lead their teams, reduce stress, and, ultimately, make a bigger impact in this world.  Book a free call to gain clarity and create a clear action plan to become the best leader you can be. 

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for managers to improve their nonverbal communication? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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