Nonverbal Clues in Communication

When interacting with clients and employees alike, sometimes what their mouths say and what their bodies do aren't quite aligned. If there is a discrepancy between a person's words and body language, listen to the body language. If it is signaling that the person is negative, defensive, or bored, you know you need to change your approach.

Look for these nonverbal clues:

Eye behavior and eye contact

  • Looking at the other person during a conversation indicates enthusiasm and liking. People who maintain eye contact when communicating are perceived as competent and trustworthy.
  • Averting eyes, shifting eyes, excessive blinking, or looking at notes for extended periods of time all lower credibility.

Gestures

  • Gestures should agree with vocal messages and seem spontaneous and natural. Unnatural movements--touching one's body, playing with objects such as pens, finger tapping, lip licking, smiling too often--indicate discomfort and a lack of confidence.
  • Showing the palms of the hands as you speak emphasizes the truthfulness of what you're saying. Moving hands with the palm down adds authority, while making a fist conveys anger and aggression.

Posture

  • The most comfortable distance between two people is just less than two feet. When a person moves closer than this, he or she is behaving aggressively, threatening or attempting to dominate the other person.
  • Closed postures with folded arms and crossed legs can indicate defensiveness or a lack of confidence.
  • An open posture, with arms spread in relaxed manner, signals confidence.
  • Crossing arms (defensive) combined with leaning back can indicate skepticism or superiority.
  • Turning the body slightly away indicates rejection.
  • Sitting on the edge of the chair shows a readiness to act, either positively or negatively.

Voice

  • A communicator's voice affects listeners’ perceptions. Factors such as volume, rate, pitch, and pronunciation make a strong impression.
  • Volume: A weak voice is perceived as lacking confidence and lowers credibility. A confident voice enhances credibility.
  • Rate: If you speak too slowly, listeners will lose interest and rendering your message unintelligible.
  • Pitch: Changes in pitch make the speaker sound more colorful and dynamic. A monotonous pitch harms credibility.
  • Pronunciation is vital to credibility. People with poor pronunciation are perceived as lower in competence.
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