The Importance of Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Nonverbal communication is as big a part of our daily interactions as the words that we speak. This communication style conveys our mood, attitude, energy level, and emotion. Being able to use nonverbal communication effectively in the workplace gives you more control over these interactions. In this article, we explain what nonverbal communication is, describe the importance of nonverbal communication in the workplace, explain how to use it at work, and provide examples of how to convey specific attitudes and emotions through nonverbal communication.

What is nonverbal communication?

Nonverbal communication is one of the four styles we use to communicate, along with writing, speaking, and active listening. You use nonverbal communication in every interaction you have with someone else, even if you're not aware of it. Learning to both read others' nonverbal signals and be aware of your own is a crucial communication skill in the workplace. It typically involves facial expressions, gestures, body language, tone of voice, and eye contact. Awareness of your own signals means you're able to make the impression you intend and convey your message effectively.
Read more: Four Types of Communication (With Examples)

The importance of nonverbal communication in the workplace

To understand the importance of nonverbal communication at work, it's vital to understand the impact that it can have on your conversations. For example, if you're in an interview, and you nonverbally communicate confidence in yourself, you stand a better chance of convincing the hirer that you're the right person for the job. Controlling your nonverbal signals can help de-escalate conflict, convey approval or disapproval, and show your interest.

Related: How To Write a Resume

Types of nonverbal communication

Here are a few of the types of nonverbal communication which typically influence our daily interactions:

Posture

Posture is the position of your body as you sit, stand, or walk. The posture you adopt is a simple indicator of your mood, energy level, and engagement in a situation. Weather you slump, sit up straight, lean in or out of a conversation, all communicate distinctly through body language. In interviews or meetings, those sitting up straight seem to be paying closer attention than those who slouch or lean on their elbows. Similarly, shifting your weight frequently between your feet can convey nervousness, while firmly planting your feet can make you seem more confident.

Posture is a vital component of nonverbal communication to be aware of because people are often unconscious of it. If you disapprove of what a colleague says to you, it can be very easy to convey that feeling using only your posture. Leaning away from them, crossing your arms, or hunching your shoulders, all communicate the fact that you're uncomfortable.

Related: Preparing For a Mock Interview

Eye movement

Eye movement is one of the more intricate components of nonverbal communication. Making consistent eye contact with someone is a recognized signal of focus, engagement, and respect. When interviewing, a candidate avoiding eye contact seems nervous, bored, or disingenuous. Alternatively, making excessive eye contact with someone can make you seem too intense and make your interviewer uncomfortable. Learning to use and interpret eye movement to communicate is a crucial asset for a skilled communicator.

Several factors contribute to effectively using and reading eye movement. It's wise to remember that some people find eye contact difficult to maintain for personal reasons. Often, if people struggle with anxiety, they might not have an easy time maintaining eye contact, so this can be a consideration when reading their nonverbal communication.

Facial expressions

The most immediately obvious type of nonverbal communication is how we use our facial expressions during interactions. Most facial expressions we use in conversation we do so consciously. At an early age, we practise smiles, frowns, grimaces, eye rolls and any other recognisable expression. Most facial expressions are reactionary, meaning you usually smile when something pleases you, or frown when something makes you angry. Our faces are the primary way they we show how we react to situations without using words.

Paying close attention to other people's facial expressions is highly useful to informing your conversation. If you share a new idea, and they adopt an expression of delight, they most likely approve, even if they don't say so. It's wise to note the difference between their verbal response and their nonverbal response, as this can tell you if they are holding their true opinion back.

Gestures

Gestures are also vital bodily signals which can be subconscious, although we have conscious gestures that mean specific things. A gesture is a physical movement or expression made with your body, most likely your hands. Some gestures are waving, thumbs ups, or even gestures that don't involve hands like shrugging. You can even consider patting someone on the back to show that you're pleased with them as a gesture. Gestures are often more conscious than facial expressions, and you can select them in conversation to communicate something particular.

Some gestures are culturally relevant. For instance, in much of the western world, a thumbs up signifies approval, but in some parts of the middle east, its meaning is much less pleasant. Some gestures are more appropriate for the workplace than others, so it's wise to be conscious of who's around you when using them. You can also improve your nonverbal skills by constantly observing those of the people you work with closely.

Best ways to use nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication is a part of every communication where you speak to someone, in person, or even through video calls. Here are some tips for using nonverbal communication in the workplace:

Be intentional

While much nonverbal communication occurs subconsciously, there are certain ways to use it with intention. Controlling your own physical expression, whether in your reactions, or displaying signals of your emotional state, can be extremely helpful in making sure you're perceived how you want to be throughout your interactions.

You can consciously make sure that you lean in during meetings to maintain involvement, or keep your posture upright to convey confidence when you're actually nervous in a stressful negotiation. Also, be mindful of how your facial expressions, gestures, posture, and eye movements may impact those you're talking to, and how they may receive your signals.

Related: 20 Tips to Avoid Feeling Nervous at Interviews

Be empathetic

Being considerate of people's background, personal situations, and relationship to you is vital for using nonverbal communication effectively. To accurately interpret another person's signals, you may consider the context and empathize accordingly. For example, if a coworker sits with their arms crossed and their shoulders hunched, they may at first appear to be frustrated or upset. That may be true, or they may simply be cold. Consider the situation and realize there may be several reasons the person you're speaking with may be in their position.

Be self aware

Being aware of the signals you 're sending out with nonverbal communication is vital to using it effectively. You most likely already have certain nonverbal habits that you use in all of your interactions. If you're aware that you tend to bite your lip, raise your eyebrows, or fidget in your seat, you can make a conscious effort to either eliminate them or even use them for your benefit. The more self aware you are in your communication habits, the more you can interpret that of others.

Examples of nonverbal communication

You can use nonverbal communication to send particular signals. Here are three helpful examples of attitudes you can convey in the workplace through nonverbal communication.

Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is an important attitude to be able to convey when appropriate, both before and after you're hired. You can communicate enthusiasm during a job interview to convey that you really want the position, or in response to a new opportunity in your current role. Being able to show clients that you're enthusiastic about working with them helps foster effective working relationships. Some ways to communicate enthusiasm are:

  • nodding your head

  • using a higher or more intense tone of voice

  • speaking energetically

  • smiling or lifting your eyebrows

  • angling your body toward the person you're interacting with

Related: Interview Preparation Tips

Focus

The next important attitude to be able to signal nonverbally is your level of attentiveness or focus. In the workplace, where communication is often essential to effective teamwork, paying close attention to people or presentations is vital. The same is true of job interviews, as it's important to appear attentive to prospective employers. You can convey focus with some of the following:

  • sitting up straight in your chair

  • keeping your arms relaxed and resting them on your lap

  • choose body language that doesn't conflict with what you say

  • look the speaker in the eye

  • nod your head when you agree or to show you understand

Confidence

Conveying confidence in yourself and your work gives others confidence in those things, too. Even if you're not feeling distinctly confident, you can still use nonverbal communication to convey that you are. Confidence is essential to convey during job interviews, when presenting information, or pitching a new idea. You can communicate confidence by:

  • taking initiative in shaking hands

  • maintaining appropriate eye contact

  • ensuring all gestures are purposeful

  • keeping a neutral but positive facial expression

  • standing straight and balancing your weight evenly

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