The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication in Business

by | Sep 12, 2018

When we hear people talk about “body language,” or nonverbal communication, it’s often discussed in the context of the more negative aspects. For example, if someone has her arms folded in front of her, that might be as sign that she is closed off to what you’re saying.

I once felt insulted when I asked a question, and the guy frowned at me intensely when he didn’t understand what I was saying. It made me feel defensive. To indicate that he was puzzled, it would have been less jarring if he had simply tilted his head to one side and asked for clarification.

We Aren’t Interrogating Anyone, but…

Police detectives and government interrogators rely on body language to determine when suspects are potentially being deceptive.

Joseph Navarro was the FBI’s top nonverbal communications expert for 25 years, specializing in counterintelligence and counter terrorism, and retired 15 years ago. He conducted and supervised more than 13,000 interrogations worldwide that, based largely on body language, sent spies and terrorists to prison. His 2018 book, The Dictionary of Body Language: A Field Guide to Human Behavior, explains the meaning of 400 nonverbal cues.

But we can use nonverbal communication to convey positive emotions, too. That can help build rapport and establish trust among clients and colleagues.

The Old Statistics Are Apparently Still Accurate

Way back in 1971, Albert Mehrabian conducted research on nonverbal communication, and the results of his study are still widely quoted today. Now a 78-year-old Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, Mehrabian found that in face-to-face communication, the majority of what is put across is portrayed through nonverbal communication:

  • Words (the literal meaning) account for 7 percent of the overall message.
  • Tone of voice accounts for 38 percent of the overall message.
  • Body language accounts for 55 percent of the overall message.

Therefore, during face-to-face communication, nonverbal communication is the most powerful mode of communication when conveying feelings or attitudes such as liking or disliking something.

Here are some nonverbal cues that can help you put other people at ease and establish rapport:

  1. Make eye contact to convey confidence and sincerity.
  2. Nod your head to signal agreement.
  3. Smile frequently at appropriate times.
  4. Keep your legs and arms uncrossed.
  5. Lean toward the person you are speaking with.

How to Read Nonverbal Cues on the Phone

Today, people do a significant amount of business over the phone. So how can you read body language, facial expressions and gestures if the person isn’t in the same room with you?

Remember that Albert Mehrabian’s numbers related to face-to-face communication. He said that body language accounts for 55 percent of the overall message, and tone of voice accounts for 38 percent. Words account for only 7 percent of the overall message.

On the phone, tone of voice becomes more important than ever. Avoid talking over the other person, sounding impatient or raising your voice. Here are some other ways to build trust during phone conversations:

  1. Speak slowly. If you speak fast, people might have a difficult time understanding you, and it might give the impression that you’re rushing them.
  2. Ask follow-up questions to indicate your interest in what the other person is saying.
  3. Pay the other person a genuine compliment. This is easier if you’ve done some research on him or her (not in a stalking way, though). You can ask about membership in a group, volunteer work or an award the person won).

Do some reading about body language, and make sure you are using nonverbal cues effectively to come across as warm, welcoming, confident and genuine to others.

Jeff Ruby

Jeff Ruby

Founder of RedRock Leadership

During the course of his professional career, he has worked in organizations ranging in size from a sole practitioner to Fortune 500. Included in his experience are roles in starting and selling companies, sales and sales management, training and development and executive coaching.

RedRock Leadership is a sales training and leadership development company committed to growing companies by growing individuals through on-going training infused with the competencies of emotional intelligence.