It’s a truism – how you say something often trumps what you say.
Research shows that when there’s incongruence between the non-verbal channel and verbal channel, 93% of communication is based on two factors: Body language (55%) and tone of voice (38%). The rest is about your words (7%).
What’s more, your personal presence speaks volumes about who you are. Without saying a word, non-verbal communication can inspire confidence – or send signals of uncertainty and doubt.
Leaders need to be aware of what they may be communicating nonverbally, whether it is intentional or not. Here are tried-and-true strategies to send the signal you intend:
- Watch others – Start as a keen observer of others. Watch presenters or leaders you admire and see how they engage others through verbal and nonverbal communication. Note what works and what doesn’t.
- Evaluate yourself – Use a mirror to watch your facial expressions. Even better, record yourself interacting with others, informally or formally, and decide what changes you may need to make. Watching yourself on videotape is a powerful way to observe yourself in action and note any blind spots you have, or identify signals you’re sending that you don’t intend.
- Check with others – Ask someone you trust if they notice any nonverbal cues that may give the wrong impression.
- Practice – Answer questions and make statements in front of the mirror or camera until you are comfortable delivering a sincere message with continuous eye contact.
Once you have identified what works best for you, model the behaviors regularly. The most critical are:
Make strong eye contact – Regular eye contact builds relationships and inspires confidence. Looking someone in the eye during a conversation shows respect and interest in what they have to say, while it can seem you are not listening if you avoid eye contact when someone is speaking. If you look away, it can be interpreted as a lack of confidence or give the impression you are lying.
Practice good posture – Stand and sit up straight to show you are relaxed and in command of a situation. Whatever your actual height may be, you will make a positive impression if you stand, walk and sit tall. Holding your head held high indicates open-mindedness and attentiveness. Even if people see you from a distance they will get the message that you are confident and in control.
Use positive expressions – Your facial expressions and body positions are like pictures that paint 1,000 words. A smile engages people and promotes positive interaction. Being still, leaning forward and focusing on the person in front of you demonstrate interest and suggest you are open to what they have to say. The opposite impression is given by crossing your arms or legs, hunching shoulders forward and having a rigid posture. If you are trying to connect with people who present this “closed” position, ask them about themselves or their concerns and listen to what they have to say.
Respect personal space and position – People can become uncomfortable if you encroach on their personal space, which typically ranges between 30 and 36 inches. Consider this when setting chairs for meetings as well as in one-on-one interactions. Also remember seating positions can send a message – placing chairs at a 45-degree angle to one another tends to encourage collaboration, while having a desk or table between people can be a barrier to teamwork.
What message might you be sending unintentionally that – if you corrected – could help you be even more effective?
- David Grossman
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