Career Development

Non Verbal Communication in the Workplace

Quick Navigation:


There are many forms of non-verbal communication, and understanding how to use these expressions can be a great way to improve relationships with coworkers. Together with verbal communication, non-verbal cues can be an influential part of the workplace and its productivity. In this article, you can learn more about non-verbal communication, why it is important and how you can improve your non-verbal communication skills.

What is non-verbal communication?

Non-verbal communication is the process by which someone uses facial expressions, gestures or body positioning (body language) to directly or indirectly communicate their feelings toward a person, idea or situation. Non-verbal communication can be displayed through gestures and expressions during a verbal interaction to unconsciously express one’s true thoughts about the conversation. Or, non-verbal signals can be displayed simply when someone is not actively engaged in a conversation that they should be participating in.

Why is non-verbal communication important at work?

Non-verbal communication is important at work because it can provide your coworkers, supervisor or employees with insights into how you feel about certain situations or topics. When used correctly, non-verbal cues can create feelings of trust, understanding and a sense of value in the receiver. However, when negative non-verbal expressions are used during an interaction that contradicts what you are saying, this can create feelings of mistrust, unease and confusion in the recipient. By being conscious of the non-verbal signals you are displaying during a professional interaction, you can prevent any sort of misinterpretation and continue to  healthy professional relationships within the workplace

Types of non-verbal communication

Here are the different types of non-verbal communication that are commonly used on a daily basis:

Eye contact

The amount of eye contact a person uses can demonstrate the focus of attention or trust in the person they are speaking with. It can also be used to evaluate an individual’s self-confidence.

Facial expressions

Facial expressions can be useful in interpreting an individual’s attitude or feelings about a topic. Smiling, frowning or raising of the eyebrows are all types of facial expressions.

Gestures

Gestures can refer to the way an individual uses their hands and other parts of their body in their communication. Pointing, shrugging of shoulders, shaking of the head, slouching, arms crossed or tapping of the feet are all examples of gestures.

Body positioning

The way that an individual position themselves during a conversation can also act as a form of non-verbal communication. For example, crossing one’s legs is considered to indicate feelings of unease or mistrust, whereas when someone sits with both feet on the ground this suggests openness.

Tone of voice

The tone of one’s voice when speaking can also be an indicator of how they feel about a topic. Sarcasm is a good example where an individual uses their tone of voice to contradict what they are saying.

Touch

An individual’s tendency to shake hands with someone, give them a pat on the back or hug them can also be an indicator of meaning.

Space

Space is another non-verbal communication signal. The degree to which someone stands or sits in proximity to another person can suggest their level of comfort or trust with that person.

Common non-verbal communication methods

Here are a few examples of the kinds of messages you can create using different types of non-verbal communication:

Substitution

You can use non-verbal cues as a substitute for spoken words in order to communicate a message to a recipient. For example, you might smile at a coworker in passing. This lets them know that you acknowledge them and are happy to see them without saying the word ‘hi.’

Accentuation 

Accentuation is a non-verbal communication method you can use to add additional meaning to your verbal communication. For example, your coworker might give you a high-five while congratulating you on the completion of an assignment. Alternatively, a supervisor might pound on the table during a meeting to emphasize the importance of what they are telling you.

Positive affirmation

Similar to accentuation, positive affirmation can be used with verbal communication to enhance the truthfulness of a positive message. For example, your supervisor might smile while also shaking your hand and thanking you for taking on an additional task, or your employee might place their hands together while expressing their gratitude for you agreeing to a more flexible work schedule.

Repetition

Repetition can be a useful non-verbal communication method to reiterate a point being made. For example, while your coworker is giving a sales presentation, he continually uses his hands to point out important figures on a sales chart to emphasize the data he is explaining. This creates meaning through the repetitive use of non-verbal signals in coordination with their verbal message.

Contradiction

Contradiction is a non-verbal communication method that can cause confusion when used unconsciously. An example of contradiction could be seen through the lack of eye contact during an interaction. For instance, if you ask a coworker if it’s okay to play music, and your coworker says yes but avoids eye contact and does not demonstrate positive facial expressions, it could be interpreted that they are not pleased with the idea of music being played while working.

Best ways to improve non-verbal communication

Here are a few ways you can try to improve your non-verbal communication practices in your daily work environment:

Be mindful of the non-verbal messages you are exhibiting

A helpful way to improve your non-verbal communication tactics is by being mindful of the non-verbal signals you are giving off while engaged in a conversation. Correct areas such as eye contact, posture or facial expressions to accurately demonstrate your thoughts.

Practice emotional awareness

Equally as important as being mindful of your own non-verbal cues is your ability to identify the non-verbal cues of others who you are engaged in a conversation with. Watch for gestures such as fidgeting, maintaining good eye contact, and their facial expression and tone of voice matching their spoken message. Being aware of body language and non-verbal signals can help you better understand the other person and their message.

Engage in communication opportunities

Try to attend professional networking events and other social opportunities where you can practice monitoring and assessing the non-verbal communication of others.