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What is Nonverbal Communication?

No matter what environment you are in – a job setting, an interview, a networking event; your nonverbal communication is equally as important as what you say.  In fact, I’d argue that it is MORE important.  Take this example:  your supervisor asks you to come in on a Saturday to complete a project, and you say “yes”.  However, you say it with an obvious eye roll.  While you are being agreeable, he will know that you are unhappy with the idea of working on the weekend.  Our gestures often say more than our words and can indicate our true feelings. 

“Nonverbal cues” refers to all communication between people that do not have a direct verbal translation.  Examples of these are body movements and facial expressions.  These nonverbal cues are extremely important in the work place because how others perceive you impacts your success.  It is extremely important to give off confident nonverbal cues when interacting with others, especially during the job search and on the job. 

Below are 7 nonverbal cues that are important to consciously think about when communicating with others:

  1. Eye Contact – This is the primary tool for establishing nonverbal communication with others. Good eye contact proves you are listening and engaged. Hold your gaze for at least 2-3 seconds; anything less can convey insecurity or avoidance.
  2. A firm handshake – Strike a balance: a weak, flimsy handshake can reflect low confidence, while an aggressive one can be off-putting.  A firm handshake with a sincere smile leaves a strong first impression.
  3. Effective gestures – Your motions should match your message. Try to punctuate your words with natural and purposeful movement. Fidgeting, playing with your hair, finger-pointing, and tapping are considered distracting gestures and should be avoided. 
  4. Appropriate facial expressions – Understand that your face is revealing to others, so make sure that your expression matches your message. For example, to show you are paying attention when listening, hold a slight smile and nod occasionally.  When speaking, your facial expressions should match what you are saying.  If you look anxious or uncomfortable when speaking about your top strengths, you will come across unbelievable.
  5. Posture and Body Language – Your posture can convey how confident you are.  By standing or sitting up straight, you are signaling confidence.  On the other hand, poor posture signals that you may have low self-esteem or even low energy levels. Similarly, body language tells a lot about how someone is feeling.  If you are in a meeting and are slouched in your chair with your arms crossed, it can be assumed you are disinterested or bored.
  6. Tone – This refers to your voice when you are not using words.  For example, your tone can hint at sarcasm, frustration, or self-assurance.  It is shown through pitch, volume, and inflection.
  7. Time – If you arrive 10 minutes late to a meeting, what does that tell the person running the meeting? Intentional or not, it is disrespectful of their time.  It could also show that you are unorganized or scatterbrained.  Respecting the time of others is an important aspect of nonverbal communication.

Remember: Communication is one of the most important parts of the workplace.  Whether spoken or not, we are constantly communicating.  Being aware of your nonverbal cues will help you to be a successful communicator.

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

About the author

Katy Arenschield

Katy Arenschield is the Engineering Co-op and Internship Program Manager.