Nonverbal Communication: How Body Language & Nonverbal Cues Are Key

by in Industry, Lifesize, People

Every day we communicate with our family, friends, colleagues and even strangers, but only a small percentage of what we communicate during each of these conversations is verbal. Research shows that the vast majority of what we convey through our interactions with others is innate and instinctual, known as nonverbal communication. Nonverbal behavior like body movements and posture, facial expressions, eye contact, hand gestures and tone of voice all contribute to how we communicate and understand each other. Often, we are unaware of our participation in interpersonal, nonverbal communication because these actions are inherent to how we converse as humans and ingrained into our daily lives. 

For business professionals, clearly and effectively communicating with clients, customers and teammates is vital to the success of the company. Yet, all too often business is conducted via phone, chat and other forms of communication where these nonverbal context clues are lost. Conversely, using high quality, face-to-face video conferencing technology guarantees that nonverbal communication is maintained during business-critical conversations. 

Man jestering with his hands as he speaks on a video conference call using his laptop

What percentage of communication is nonverbal?

There have been a number of studies on the complex topic of nonverbal communication with varying results. However, most experts agree that 70 to 93 percent of all communication is nonverbal.

One of the most well-known research projects on nonverbal communication was led by Dr. Mehrabian in the 1960s. In his first experiment, subjects were given three recordings of the word “maybe” — one to convey disfavor, one to convey favor and one to convey neutrality. Participants were then shown photos of female faces expressing the same three emotions and were told to determine the emotions of both the recordings and the photos. The subjects more accurately guessed the emotion conveyed in the photos by a margin of 3:2.

In a second study, Dr. Mehrabian’s subjects listened to recordings of nine words. Three were designed to convey affinity (“honey,” “thanks” and “dear”), three were meant to convey neutrality (“oh,” “really” and “maybe”) and three conveyed dislike (“don’t,” “terrible” and “brute”). The recordings were of speakers reading each word three times, each with a different tone: positive, neutral and negative. The result? A subject’s response to each word was dependent more on the inflection of the voice than the connotation of the word itself. These studies led Dr. Mehrabian to devise a formula to describe how the mind determines meaning. He concluded that the interpretation of a message is 7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal and 55 percent visual. The conclusion was that 93 percent of communication is “nonverbal” in nature.

7 Examples of Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace

“Imagine your co-worker storms into her office after lunch. She’s red-faced, tight-lipped and speaks to no one. She throws her briefcase on the desk, plops down in her chair and glares out the window. You ask, ‘Are you all right?’ She snaps back in an angry tone, ‘I’m fine!’ Which message do you believe: Her nonverbal signals (behavior and voice tone), or her verbal one (words alone)? Most likely, you believe the nonverbal message,” says Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results. Price says studies show that when messages are mismatched, most recipients will believe the nonverbal message over the spoken words. That’s why being aware of nonverbal cues, especially in the workplace, is so important to effectively communicate with your colleagues, partners and clients. You need to be able to pick up on certain nonverbal cues and mannerisms in the workplace for effective communication. Here are seven forms of nonverbal communication in the workplace and how you can use them to improve your communication skills. 

1. Vocal Tone

Speaking style, pitch, rate and volume all contribute to understanding the speaker. Changes in vocal tone during a conversation are also a noticeable nonverbal cue that contributes to your understanding of the person speaking. For example, during a friendly conversation with your boss, you ask her if you can take next week off. She says “Sure. Take all the time off you need,” but her tone of voice went from warm and sweet before your question to cold and sharp when she replied. Although her words seem positive, her tone of voice indicates she is not happy about your request. 

2. Fidgeting 

Are you shaking your knee, biting your nails or playing with your pen very noticeably as someone else talks in a meeting? This may express to the speaker you are bored or nervous or are disinterested.  According to Jim Blythe, author of Consumer Behaviour, fidgeting is a displacement behavior and external release for whatever you are feeling within. 

3. Facial expressions

Since facial expressions are closely tied to our emotions, they reveal what we are thinking and are perhaps our biggest nonverbal communicators in everyday life. Imagine pitching a new product to a client with a fearful and worried look on your face or with a lack of eye contact.This would convey to your client that you have little faith in the product. Instead, if you really want to sell your product, show positive energy and enthusiasm with your facial expressions by allowing your face to be animated and smiling as you talk. The excitement on your face will help get the customer excited about your new product. 

4. Head movements

Head movements are especially rich conveyors of communication and one of the easiest nonverbal cues to understand. Certain head movements tend to be culture-specific, such as nodding in agreement for within western cultures. For example, when presenting in a meeting, you can gauge participants’ understanding and interest in your presentation by observing their head movements. If they are shaking their head in a “no” manner, you may need to pause and ask if anyone has any questions to try to understand if they are confused or in disagreement with you. Conversely, if meeting participants are actively nodding their heads in a “yes” manner, it is a good indication they are engaged and understand what you’re trying to communicate.

5. Hand gestures

Hand gestures punctuate the spoken word and can offer useful context about both the speaker and what they are saying. Sometimes hand gestures give clues to the speaker’s emotional state. Trembling hands could mean the person is anxious or lying. Animated, grand hand gestures could indicate the person is excited or passionate about what she is discussing.  Other times hand gestures give literal meaning to the spoken words. Your boss may give you very detailed verbal instructions about a task with added hand gestures to reinforce his spoken words. For example, he says, “I need three circular objects placed over there.” As he speaks these words, he gestures with his hands by holding up three fingers, followed by drawing a circle in the air and finally pointing to where he wants them.

6. Body posture

Body posture can be used to determine a participant’s degree of attention or involvement during a conversation.  Bad posture, like slouching, may indicate the listener is bored or uninterested in the conversation. In contrast, if the person you’re speaking to is standing or sitting still, upright and leaning forward, they are signaling that they are focused, attentive and engaged in the conversation. Body posture can also give hints about personality characteristics, such as whether a person is confident, happy, friendly or submissive. 

7. Physical distance

Physical distance between people can set the tone for the conversation. An employee who comes extremely close to speak with you while you’re seated at your desk may indicate they have something confidential to say. Other times, getting extremely close or touching someone as you speak could be considered intrusive or even hostile. However, physical distance can be misleading since different cultures require different amounts of physical distance for communicating in the workplace. Most North Americans prefer at least 18 inches of personal space. Anything closer is viewed as too intimate in a work environment. A coworker from South America, on the other hand, may be comfortable getting much closer to talk. 

How Nonverbal Communication Skills Can Make or Break Deals

Understanding the importance of nonverbal communication with a client or potential customer helps increase trust and clarity and add interest to your business-critical conversations — or does the exact opposite. If prospects think you are bored, distracted, annoyed or anything that is off-putting, they could decline your contract. Commonly, people are not aware they are giving off negative nonverbal cues that others notice. On the other hand, displaying positive nonverbal communication that increases your credibility and trustworthiness could help you land the deal. Clients want to see your actions and facial expressions align with your words. However, your efforts are wasted if you’re on an audio-only call during these critical conversations since clients or prospects have no way of reading your nonverbal communication. In contrast, face-to-face video conference calls allow you to have more of an “in-person” interaction and pick up on important nonverbal cues.  

6 Tips to Perfect Your Nonverbal Communication for Video Calls 

Companies that conduct business primarily by phone or email are leaving a large percentage of their message open to misinterpretation. Imagine the money that’s being thrown away because of inefficiencies and miscommunications from using subpar communication tools. Video conferencing ensures that no inflection is missed and that facial expressions, hand gestures and body language are seen and understood. It engages both visual and audible aspects of communication in one format and puts you in control of shaping your message. Here are six tips to help you effectively communicate with your clients, colleagues and business partners using video conferencing technology.  

1. Remember you’re being watched

When on a video call, it’s easy to forget that someone else is on the other end seeing everything from your camera. You may be using a small device like a tablet or phone during a conference call, but people on the far end may see you on a large, ultra-high definition TV in a conference room. Without realizing it, your nonverbal communication is amplified on screen to everyone in the meeting room. 

2. Be mindful of your body language

Being present and engaged during video conference calls allows you to notice subconscious body language like leaning, slouching or stretching. Even if you are not the presenter during the video call, it’s important to be aware of your body language and what it is saying to the speaker and meeting participants. Show that you’re actively listening by remaining attentive, sitting erect with good posture and giving occasional head nods.  

3. Put your phone down

During a video call make sure your cell phone and other distracting devices are silenced and away from your line of sight. Even a single notification can draw your eyes away from the business at hand, making you appear to be distracted and uninterested.

4. Look into the camera

There’s nothing more important than eye contact when it comes to showing confidence, interest and trustworthiness. Maintain eye contact during the conference call by looking directly at the camera, not at your computer or TV screen, when you’re speaking.

5. Avoid excessive movements and dramatic hand gestures

During a conference call try to keep your body movements calm and relaxed. Avoid fidgeting with your pen, excessively shaking your legs or doing anything else that conveys nervousness or boredom. When speaking you can use your hands to gesture, but avoid being overly animated. Dramatic hand gestures can be distracting for meeting participants, especially on a video conference call where you are sitting close to the camera.

6. Be aware of your facial expressions

Last and most importantly, be aware of your facial expressions throughout the entire video call. Unlike other forms of subtle nonverbal cues, the emotions shared through facial expressions are universal and are often the strongest nonverbal communicator during a conference call. In long meetings, especially if you are not presenting, it’s easy to let your face frown or look bored without realizing it. Try to maintain a positive or neutral facial expression with an occasional smile throughout the meeting. A pleasant, friendly smile lets the speaker know you’re engaged and enjoying the meeting.

Conclusion 

Nonverbal communication plays an important role in how we convey meaning and information to others, as well as how we interpret the actions of others during conversations. For business professionals, giving off the right nonverbal cues is extremely important. When your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice match your spoken words, your message is reinforced and helps clients, coworkers and prospects better understand you. However, using audio only calls or text-based tools for communicating leaves your message open to misinterpretation since studies show that up to 93% of all communication is nonverbal. Without these indicators, the totality of a person’s statement is impossible to interpret and understand. If meeting in person is not feasible, use video conferencing technology to meet face to face and pick up on important nonverbal cues. Lifesize’s lifelike 4K video quality can help take your business-critical conversations to the next level.