What do you envision when someone mentions nonverbal communication? For many of us, it's the fluid hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions that accompany American Sign Language (ASL). However, in a leadership context, nonverbal communication refers to something entirely different. Nonverbal communication encompasses all of the ways humans have of expressing themselves without vocalizing their thoughts. It's that nod your boss gives you when they approve of a point in your presentation, or that eye roll a coworker shoots your way when the vacation schedule is posted.
Why is non-verbal communication important? As humans, we have thousands of gestures and body movements we can use to express how we're feeling in any given moment. We call this body language, because even though no words are spoken, we're still communicating thoughts and emotions to those around us. Learning how to recognize and interpret these signals in others makes us better leaders and more marketable employees. Earning your master's degree in leadership is a great way to improve your ability to "read the room."
What Is Non-Verbal Communication?
Are you good at noticing nonverbal cues? Can you tell when someone who's smiling at you is angry? Can you tell when others are lying? It can be difficult to know what someone is really thinking when you ask for their opinion, but if you look closely, there are clues. Are they making direct eye contact? Are their arms crossed protectively across their chest? Is their jaw clenched? These are all instances of someone expressing themselves through nonverbal communication. If what you're seeing doesn't match what they're saying, it may be a clue that you need to be asking different questions.
Nonverbal cues and knowing how to interpret them are important. This holds true in workplace settings and is, for several reasons, especially vital for those in leadership positions.
Importance of Non-Verbal Communication
As a leader, learning to interpret nonverbal communication gives you a wealth of information about the people around you. For instance, it can tell you:
- When your team is frustrated
- If a member of your team is lying
- Whether employee morale is high or low
- When someone is on the verge of resigning
- Whether a team member is happy, sad, angry, or simply doesn't care anymore
Once you understand how a member of your staff really feels, you can pull them aside for a private conversation to learn more about the situation. This may help lower your turnover rate, reduce training costs, and improve employee morale. Team members will also feel validated and learn that management is open to hearing what they have to say.
Learning to understand body language and non-verbal cues helps build trust and encourage openness among those with whom you work, which is why it plays such an integral role in leadership training.
Non-Verbal Communication Skills
While it's important to know what others are thinking, it's equally important to be aware of what your own facial expression or posture conveys. Those under your supervision may be keen observers, and if your own body language exudes uncertainty or confusion, this may make it easier for others to take advantage of you. To this end, there are several areas worth examining.
Body Language and Non-Verbal Communication
The three elements that most expose your feelings and emotions when you're not speaking verbally are eye contact, body posture, and facial expression. As a leader, it's essential to be aware of what yours are saying about you. You can also use your knowledge of these to help you learn more about the crowd you're addressing. There is much they can tell you.
The way you use your eyes during conversation says a lot about you. For instance, direct eye contact is usually associated with honesty, while averting the eyes may mean you lack confidence in what you're saying. Staring at someone intensely for a long period of time may signal hostility, but looking away often may make you appear disinterested. There are unwritten rules when it comes to studying the eye contact that people make, and if you learn them, you can have a psychological advantage in any conversation.
The way you carry yourself also gives others information about you. You may seem friendly or standoffish, confident or insecure, depending on how you position your body. Open postures are those you engage in when you feel relaxed and at ease. Your arms and legs may be uncrossed, and you may be reclined slightly in your chair.
Closed postures, conversely, may make you appear nervous, scared, or angry. These are typically represented by tightly crossed arms or sitting stiffly upright.
Normal facial expressions appear on the face and last up to four seconds. These are the macro expressions, exhibited when something pleases, displeases, concerns, or confuses us, and we're not afraid to show it. Macro expressions are generally easy to interpret by the room. Micro expressions, however, are more difficult to read because they flash on the face for only an instant, usually for less than one-half of a second. They convey emotions we wish to hide. By learning to read these facial expressions effectively, we can gain a better understanding of what's going on in someone's mind, such as whether they're impressed by the new manager's speech or angered by their tone of voice.
Non-Verbal Cues in Communication
Nonverbal cues include gestures and movements that happen during spoken conversation are also indicators of how we feel about the topic or the person to whom we're speaking. While we may not always speak the truth about how we feel, we may air our grievances in other ways, including exaggerated hand gestures, head tosses, or shoulder shrugs.
Hand and Body Gestures
Exaggerated gestures usually indicate excitement or anger, while simple gestures may help your brain access the information about which you're speaking. Most of us use gestures when we speak, but these movements are more prevalent in some than they are in others.
Movement While Speaking
If you move about a lot when you're speaking, people may assume you're nervous, so be aware of movements such as shifting your weight from leg to leg, pacing, or tapping your foot. However, some movement when speaking may help your audience listen more attentively, which is why polished public speakers tend to move about a bit on the stage. Their movement is usually choreographed ahead of time and designed to keep the audience engaged, while making it appear as though they're confident and in control.
Role of Active Listening in Non-Verbal Communication
Surprisingly, we're not born with the skill of active listening. Rather, this is a learned art that will take you far in your career and in life. Active listening means you're fully engaged with what the other person is saying. You're using all your senses to take in information, and you're offering nonverbal cues in return. Learning how to actively listen to your staff and coworkers will help you build solid relationships that stand the test of time.
Building Trust and Rapport
Active listening or listening in which you appear interested and alert may look like this: Your body is leaning into the conversation; you're making solid eye contact, and you're smiling or looking concerned in all the right places. If someone were to ask, you would be able to paraphrase the gist of what you just heard.
This type of listening helps the other person trust you. It makes them feel as though you're interested in what they have to say.
Leaving Room for Discussion and Questions
In the role of speaker, you can engage your audience by pausing at the end. This allows them the opportunity to pose questions regarding what they've just heard. Question-and-answer sessions like these may help staff or employees gain a clearer picture of what was just shared. Having an opportunity to ask for clarification and receiving an adequate response in return also gives team members the satisfaction of being heard.
If you see yourself holding a leadership position in the future, or if you're already in a management role and would like to improve your non-verbal communication leadership skills, the Online Master of Arts in Leadership at Lindenwood University Online can help you develop the techniques you desire. Our program can be completed entirely online in as little as 12 months with flexible scheduling that fits your busy lifestyle.
Lindenwood University Online is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Our online master's degree in leadership is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, meaning students enrolled at Lindenwood University Online receive a quality education that provides them with the skills needed to succeed in their chosen field.
For more information on the many programs we offer, contact Lindenwood University Online today. One of our friendly and knowledgeable advisors will be happy to speak with you to answer any questions you may have.