It’s not always what you say, but it’s how you say it.
Much of our communication is portrayed by our nonverbal cues and gestures, emphasizing our message or confusing it.
Adults and children routinely express their energy through nonverbal cues in their face, vocal tone, and body movements, so Zoom meetings or job interviews for remote-workers are not a safety-zone.
Enhancing or transferring our communication through body language can include eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions. Each person uses nonverbal cues daily, and most of the time, we are not purposefully controlling them.
Why nonverbal communication is important
As previously stated, our expressions and body movements add to what we are saying. In a best-case scenario, our nonverbal expressions support our message and help the other person understand the overall message.
Nonverbal communication can also be used independently of verbal communication. For instance, baseball coaches routinely use nonverbal communication to communicate with the player in the batter’s box.
Because nonverbal communication is often difficult to control, it can provide a different message indicating a person is being dishonest. They can also show the fact that you may be upset, closed off, or reserved.
One of the benefits of nonverbal communication is filling in the gaps where words would fall short. For instance, a hug or pat on the back can be much more meaningful to someone going through a hard time.
11 of the most powerful nonverbal communication examples
We know how these cues can influence what we want to communicate, so we must understand the different methods and use them to our benefit.
1. Appearance and personal hygiene
How you present yourself through your appearance can significantly help or hurt your message.
If you go into a job interview smelling like you recently ran a marathon or your clothes are dirty and have holes in them, it doesn’t matter what you say. The pungent odor and appearance of your nonverbal cues are going to speak louder than any words you communicate.
By moving your hand gestures in a complimenting manner to your speech, you can emphasize a point or help keep your audience engaged. Some people “talk” with their hands so much it becomes a distraction. Controlling our body movements and using them to emphasize our verbal communication is a powerful tool.
3. Facial expressions
Another obvious choice, facial expressions can show disgust or excitement, often without us even knowing what we are communicating.
Our faces have a way of showing what we are thinking even when we are trying to hide it. An overall lack of expression also communicates disinterest, so keep in mind that the lack of nonverbal communication also sends a message.
4. Eye contact
This is one of the most powerful examples of nonverbal communication. Eye contact can tell the other person you are engaged and interested in what they have to say.
However, eye contact can also be a way of showing dominance. Extended focused eye contact can intimidate and make others uncomfortable, while avoiding eye contact can communicate a lack of confidence.
Paralinguistics is the use of vocal tones, volumes, pitch, and inflections. Different from verbal communication, these elements can significantly enhance your verbal message.
Separate from gestures, overall body movement is a strong communication element. For instance, someone sitting with their arms crossed can show they are defensive, uncomfortable, or reserved. Clenched fists can show aggression. How your overall body moves and behaves is constantly sending messages to others.
When you communicate with another person, most people are comfortable with a few feet of space between them. We have all experienced people who have trouble understanding “personal space,” which can quickly influence our own feelings and emotions.
Using verbal cues associated with anger can be accented by closing the distance and getting in another person’s personal space.
8. Physical touch
As stated in an earlier example, a hug or a gentle pat on the back can comfort another person and show empathy.
Similar to the nonverbal example of positioning, some people are a little too “touchy-feely.” While physical touch can portray compassion and concern, it can also be borderline creepy if used frequently.
9. Avatars and other representations
One that is often overlooked, how you represent yourself digitally has a significant impact on your overall communication. What you use for your email icon or signature says a lot about you.
Whether intended or not, you are communicating specific facts about yourself with digital representations. The less professional your avatars are, the less people may value what you verbally say.
When speaking or listening to someone, if you lean forward in your chair, you demonstrate you are interested and engaged with the other person. However, slouching with your arms and legs crossed communicates a disinterest in being part of the conversation.
One of the more difficult nonverbal communication cues to control, your physiology can also tell a story.
For instance, extremely nervous people may start to sweat or blink rapidly. Increased breathing rates can show excitement or panic. Physiology cues are by far the most difficult to control.
Using nonverbal communication examples to your advantage
In previous examples, we discussed how crossing your arms could communicate a defensive or uninterested position.
However, you may be fully engaged, but this body position was the most comfortable position to be in at the moment. Pay attention to what you are saying with your nonverbal cues and adjust them if they do not match what you are trying to communicate.