With numerous forms of workplace communication, though spoken methods may seem most effective, they account for just a fraction of daily interactions.
At a personal level, non-verbal communications – from appearances to gestures and posture – allow colleagues and clients to form split-second, instinctual impressions without a word – and vice-versa. Affecting perceived authority and superiority, at a communicative level, this allows you to judge the importance of communications or situations, or even establish client interest through reading their body language. Because of this, consciously presenting yourself in an appealing non-verbal manner, and learning to read the non-verbal cues of others, is key to successful workplace communication.
Non-verbal communication: Reading your colleagues like a book
For non-verbal communication to be effective, the message must be clear. Know how to read the signals sent by others, and consider the non-verbal signals you yourself emit.
Eye contact. To display attentiveness, honesty and respect, make and maintain eye contact. Showing interest, and expressing understanding, this is normally used in conjunction with direct verbal communication. If eye contact is not made (or is made too directly), this can be viewed as a sign of avoidance or mistrust, or seen as negative or aggressive.
Appearance and dress. What do other people’s workplace appearances say to you? Does their dress make you more inclined to listen, or disregard their points? Professional dress adds instant confidence, authority and respect to any situation, so always dress the way you’d like to be perceived. There’s a reason nervous speakers are told to imagine their audiences naked!
Posture & body language. Posture and body language are arguably the most effective means of non-verbal communication. A full-facing open posture (arms uncrossed, shoulders back) will inspire confidence and trust, and as with clear eye contact, displays interest and attentiveness. In close conversations, maintaining this ‘openness’ will encourage audiences to listen. Do not fidget or close yourself off by crossing your arms, or remaining behind a barrier (a desk etc). If you are a superior member of an organization, take the time to regularly meet employees in-person rather than communicating via abstract written methods as this reaffirms power positively.
Gestures. When used in conjunction with verbal communication, gesticulation (pointing, nodding, facial expressions), will enhance and cement meaning. Independently however, gestures can be just as effective; consider the impact the slightest move can have in an auction for example. To improve workplace communications and ensure client actions are given ‘the nod’, keep gestures positive and open (as with posture) and observe the gestures of others to determine what’s appropriate.
Communication through touch. Though not too common in professional situations, communication via touch (known as haptics) is another way to direct people, assert professional dominance, or reassure and build trust. After all, how often are we told to have good, firm handshakes rather than weak limp ones?
- International communication. Interpersonal actions and etiquette have vastly differing cultural associations which must be understood if communications are to be successful. For example, eye contact, gestures and proxemics (personal space boundaries) can all have alternative meanings; while one culture may promote continuous eye contact as positive, others many see it as rude and negative. Always be aware of how non-verbal communications will be perceived by other cultures, especially in meetings.
In addition to observing others and adjusting your own non-verbal actions to suit, be sure to react to non-verbal cues given by your audience – if gesture indicates confusion, try to find out why! Most people are already good at this, but making a conscious effort to interact means you’ll enhance your understanding of colleagues and professional audiences tenfold.