Nonverbal communication

So much of business today revolves around communication – how we communicate with clients, with colleagues, and with vendors. The explosion of technology means we live in a state of constant communication; we're rarely without our devices, connecting with people in one way or another. And yet, with all of this communication, it often seems as if we're just not very good at it.

We all have a tendency to hide behind our devices, and that has diminished our effectiveness at communicating face-to-face. Yet in-person communication is still a vital part of business today. When we speak in person, we get a better read on our colleagues' thinking; we pick up on nuances that emails or texts can't convey.

This isn't meant to diminish the importance of technology; it's a critical aspect of getting work done today, and we are clearly not going backwards. However, we could all benefit from brushing up our non-verbal communication techniques.

Research shows that the unspoken is critical. In the early 1970s, UCLA professor Dr. Alfred Mehrabian’s research on nonverbal communication revealed that the words we speak to our audience are actually a very tiny proportion of the overall message. Specifically, he found that:

  • Seven percent of the audience’s feelings and attitudes towards the message are in the words that are spoken by the communicator.
  • 38 percent of the audience’s feelings and attitudes towards the message are paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
  • 55 percent of the audience’s feelings and attitudes towards the message are in the communicator’s facial expression.

In other words, effective nonverbal communication is critical. It has a dramatic impact on how our messages are received.

Many of the best practices for nonverbal communication are the same things your parents taught you – stand up straight, look people in the eye, smile, and give them a firm handshake.

Good body language helps you create a connection with your audience, whether it's in a  meeting with a  client, a group of coworkers, or your boss. Good body language demonstrates an interest in the person with whom you are interacting. That is the basis of good communication.

So the next time you find yourself sending an email to ask a question or discuss a project, consider going to talk to the person directly instead. And pay attention to whether your body language is sending the message you want to convey.

Want more advice? Check out some of the other posts on our Careers blog!

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