When we communicate, we use more than just words. The way we stand or sit, the way we gesture, and even the pitch of our voice help contribute to our message. A famous researcher of body language, Albert Mehrabian, once broke down in-person communication into a 55/38/7 rule. According to this theory, communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% the words you speak.
There are numerous types of nonverbal communication; some you might be acutely aware of and others that you might not. However, to become an effective communicator, it is important to understand what your nonverbal cues are telling your listener. Learn more about nonverbal communication and the role it plays in your work life, along with a few nonverbal communication examples.
What is nonverbal communication?
Nonverbal communication refers to the variety of ways in which humans communicate with one another besides using words. While this type of communication encompasses nonverbal cues such as hand gestures and eye contact, it is often combined with verbal language.
For example, if you are telling a story, you will use verbal language to convey the storyline, paired with nonverbal language to communicate your feelings and an expression of the tale.
The importance of nonverbal communication at work
When it comes to interviewing for a job, negotiating a salary raise, or even simply chatting with your boss, nonverbal communication plays an important role in how people perceive you at work. In some cases, you might not consciously think about your nonverbal cues, but those around you will use them to interpret what you are saying.
When you understand how to use nonverbal communication to your advantage, it can help you appear more confident, negotiate deals, and build relationships. However, when you don’t pay attention to your nonverbal communication, you can undermine the words you are speaking.
For example, if you are trying to express your excitement to your boss about being invited to work on a big project, you might say the words, “I can’t wait to get started.” However, if you say these words while you stand distantly with your arms crossed and mumble the words in a monotone voice, your boss might actually interpret your communication to mean that you aren’t grateful for the opportunity and are, in fact, not at all excited about the project.
Nonverbal communication will tell others more about what you have to say than your own words will, which is why it is imperative to understand all the cues that contribute to a conversation.
Types of nonverbal communication
There are numerous ways in which you communicate with others beyond the words you speak. The following are the common types of nonverbal communication and examples of what they look like in action.
Body language is how you hold yourself while having a conversation. Body language is often a direct reflection of how you are feeling, even if you work remotely and take part in video calls.
- During a conversation, your boss is unhappy with your request. They cross their arms while listening.
- When discussing a project you are excited about, you lean forward.
Gestures are motions or movements you make with your hands and arms when conversing. They can be used to indicate excitement or to express a point more clearly.
- When asking why a project deadline has not been met, your team lead holds their arms up in a shrug.
- While your coworker gives a presentation, you give them a quick thumbs up to show your support.
Paralanguage or vocalics
Along with your body language, how you deliver your words will also play a role in their perception. Called paralanguage or vocalics, this nonverbal communication refers to the tone, pitch, and speed of your voice.
- You feel nervous when asking for a raise, and your voice cracks.
- During a presentation, your boss speeds up their speech, indicating excitement for the project plans.
The distance between you and others also communicates how you feel. This includes where you stand in a room, where you choose to sit, and how close you position yourself to others.
- During a team meeting, you sit in the seat furthest from everyone else because you are frustrated.
- When brainstorming for an upcoming project, you and your colleagues gather in a small circle to share ideas.
Posture is about more than simply preventing a backache. Your posture actually communicates your emotions or feelings about a situation. Generally, slouching or slumping indicates someone is disinterested or unhappy, whereas sitting upright and maintaining good posture suggests higher levels of engagement and alertness.
- As your boss lectures you about a missed deadline, you slouch in your chair.
- On your first day at a new job, you sit up tall during orientation as you excitedly listen to your new manager.
Our eyes are often referred to as the windows to our souls. This colloquialism reflects the deep connection that eye contact can create between people when communicating. Whether you make eye contact or not will convey a message to others.
- When negotiating your salary, you are nervous and stare down at your hands.
- During an interview, you make direct eye contact while telling a story about previous work experience, indicating confidence.
One of the most important forms of nonverbal communication is the expression you wear on your face. Facial expressions indicate a lot about our emotions and what we are trying to say. From a young age, we learn to interpret the communication of others based on what their face is saying.
- As you meet a new coworker, you smile as you greet them, indicating a warm welcome.
- During a frustrating meeting, you furrow your brow, indicating to others that you are unhappy with the outcome.
How to better communicate with nonverbal communication cues
Understanding nonverbal communication cues can help you communicate better, as well as aid you in interpreting how others are feeling. To improve your communication, use the following nonverbal tips:
- Be self-aware: First and foremost, you need to tune into your own nonverbal cues. If you often find that people misinterpret what you are saying, it might be because your nonverbal cues contradict your words. Start paying attention throughout the day to how you hold your body, what your facial expressions might be saying, and what your tone of voice indicates.
- Practice: Whether you are going into an interview or about to give a presentation, take the time to practice what you will say and how you will say it. You can even stage the setting and record yourself to gain insights into your nonverbal cues. This can help you practice positive nonverbal communication. For example, if you are practicing a presentation, you might discover by watching a video of yourself that you were slumping, looking down at the ground, and speaking too quickly. Through practice, you can improve your posture, speak slowly but confidently, and make eye contact with people in your audience.
- Pay attention to others: In addition to mastering your nonverbal communication cues, learn to pay attention to what other people are indicating through their nonverbal cues as well. This can help you better understand what someone actually means, regardless of what their words might suggest.
Looking for more tips about body language and nonverbal cues? Check out the seven things you must know according to a body language expert.