What Are Nonverbal Communication Skills (With Examples)
There are four types of communication, including written, verbal, visual, and nonverbal. People might not notice or remember nonverbal communication because the messages it expresses aren't as clear as the ones written and verbal communication offer. Learning more about nonverbal communication can improve your expression and interpretation of nonverbal messages, helping you build stronger relationships. In this article, we explain what nonverbal communication skills are, tell you about different examples of nonverbal communication, and offer steps to improve your skills.
What are nonverbal communication skills?
Nonverbal communication skills are abilities you can use to convey or interpret a nonverbal message effectively. This type of communication is dependent on seeing and analyzing physical movements as opposed to verbal communication, or the use of language to transfer information through written text, speaking, or sign language. Instead, you transfer information through aspects like body language, facial expressions, gestures, and created space. For example, smiling when you meet someone can convey friendliness, acceptance, and openness. Everyone uses nonverbal communication regularly, even if they don't realize it.
Nonverbal communication is important because it gives us valuable information about a situation, including how a person might be feeling, how someone receives information, and how to approach a person or group of people. For example, if you notice a team member is slouching when they normally sit up straight, they may be tired, so you can offer to help with their workload if you're available. Paying attention to and developing the ability to read nonverbal communications is an invaluable skill you can leverage at every stage of your career.
Examples of nonverbal communication skills
There are many types of nonverbal communication, such as:
One of the most common types of nonverbal communication is body language. This is the way someone positions their body depending on the situation, the environment, and how they're feeling. Body language may be conscious or involuntary.
Example: Someone might cross their arms if they're feeling angry or nervous. You may unconsciously wring your hands when you're nervous during an interview or consciously nod your head to agree with something the interviewer said.
The way you move your arms and legs, such as walking quickly or slowly, standing, sitting or fidgeting, can all convey different messages to onlookers. Some movements can be distracting in professional settings, so it's important that you pay attention to yours to determine what message you're conveying.
Example: If you're standing in a meeting when everyone else is sitting, you may garner all the attention, even if you're not the one speaking.
The way you sit or stand can also communicate your comfort level, professionalism, and general disposition towards a person or conversation. Postural cues can include how you're holding your head, such as if you're looking down, straight ahead, or upward. It can also include how straight your back is when you're sitting or standing. An open or relaxed posture is when you have your arms at your side and your legs are straight, not crossed. This invites people to talk to you and makes you seem more receptive.
Example: Someone might slouch their shoulders if they feel tired, frustrated, or disappointed.
While gestures vary widely across communities, they're generally used both intentionally and unintentionally to convey information to others. A gesture is when you move a part of your body, typically your hand or head, to express a certain message.
Example: Someone might hold their thumb up to communicate confirmation or that they feel positive about something. Nodding your head up and down is a common gesture to say yes, while shaking it left and right is a gesture to say no.
Creating or closing distance between yourself and the people around you can also convey messages about your comfort level, the importance of the conversation, your desire to support or connect with others. You may stand close to someone you have a personal relationship with, such as friends and family. But standing too close to someone in a professional setting can make people uncomfortable, as you may be invading their personal space. Aim to give people 15 to 45 centimetres of personal space so they're comfortable and can focus on the conversation.
Example: You might stand close enough to reach out and touch your loved one on the arm or hand when talking to them.
Paralanguage includes the non-language elements of speech, such as your talking speed, pitch, intonation, and volume. This describes how you say the words rather than the actual words themselves. You can change your paralanguage according to the environment.
Example: You might speak quickly if you are excited about something. If you're talking to one person, you may use a quieter volume to speak than you might use when presenting to a group of people.
One of the most easily recognizable forms of nonverbal communication is facial expressions. You can use your eyebrows, mouth, eyes, and facial muscles to convey emotion or information effectively. The expression you make when speaking can change your message, so it's important to be aware of your facial expressions at all time.
Example: Someone might raise their eyebrows and open their eyes widely if they feel surprised. Rolling your eyes when stating a fact can convey frustration or sarcasm.
Strategically using eye content, or a lack of eye contact, is an extremely effective way to communicate your attention and interest. Maintaining eye contact with someone who's speaking to you can show you're interested in what they say. Avoiding eye contact can make you seem unsure, uncomfortable, or dishonest.
Example: Looking away from someone and at the ground or your phone may show them you're not interested in the conversation.
Physiological changes occur within your body and are typically uncontrollable. For example, blushing, sweating, or tearing up. These changes may be more obvious to people than other forms of nonverbal communication as they're easily observable. If you become aware of what unique triggers you have that cause these physiological changes, you may be able to minimize them.
Example: You may have uncontrollable sweating when you're presenting to a group of people because you're scared of public speaking.
Some people also use touch as a form of communication. Most commonly, it's used to communicate support or comfort. Use this form of nonverbal communication sparingly in a professional setting, and only when you know the receiving party is okay with it. Don't use it to convey anger, frustration, or any other negative emotions.
Example: Placing your hand on a friend's shoulder may convey support or empathy.
How to improve nonverbal communication
If you want to improve your nonverbal communication, here are some ways you can do so:
1. Pay attention to nonverbal signs
Get to know different forms of nonverbal communication by observing them in your family and friends first. Note how your loved ones stand, what they do with their hands, or the facial expressions they make when talking to you. This can help you identify your own nonverbal signs so you can have more control over them.
2. Maintain open body language
When talking to people, focus on your body language. Ensure it's open by sitting or standing up straight, uncrossing your arms or legs, and staying still. This can make you more approachable, encouraging people to talk to you, which can help you build stronger relationships.
3. Put yourself on the same level as the person
Try to stay on the same level as the person you're talking to. This means if they're standing, stand as well, and if they're sitting, sit next to or across from them. Sitting and talking to someone who's standing can be intimidating, but being on the same level as your conversation partner shows you're equals.
4. Practise with people you're comfortable with
Practise using your nonverbal communication skills with people you're comfortable with, like family, friends, or close colleagues. This can minimize your nervousness and allow you to focus on conveying the right message, both verbally and nonverbally. It also gives you the opportunity to ask for feedback on ways you can improve your communication.
Explore more articles
- Hiring Marketers (How to Select Competent Team Members)
- Projects vs. Operations: Definitions and Differences
- 6 NLP Techniques to Use for Meetings and Interviews
- Steps on How to Calculate Average in Excel (With Importance)
- How to Handle a Hostile Work Environment (With Tips)
- What Is Network Segmentation? (With Benefits and Examples)
- Building Relationships: Benefits, Tips and How-to Guide
- Guide to Material Management (With Types and Objectives)
- What Are Specifications? (With Importance and Types)
- What Is a Cardinality Database? (With Benefits and Types)
- Guide for How to Say Thank You for Being Recognized at Work
- How to Improve Social Skills (With Examples and Steps)