The Power of Non-Verbal Communication

Grumpy ManYou have no doubt heard the proverb—Actions speak louder than words.

It’s true. Your body is a crucial part of communicating your inner feelings. Of course, we can’t communicate ideas, thoughts, and plans without words. However, the way people interpret those words is tremendously influenced by our non-verbal communication.

In her research, Dr. Isa Engleberg (Professor of Speech at Prince George College) has suggested that between 60 and 70 percent of all meaning—understanding—is derived from our body language.

What is body language? It’s a form of non-verbal communication consisting of facial expressions, eye movements, gestures, and posture. Here are a few examples:

  • Face: smiling shows happiness; frowning shows disapproval.
  • Eyes: attentive gaze shows interest; rolling the eyes shows disgust.
  • Gestures: nodding the head shows agreement; tapping fingers on table shows boredom or impatience.
  • Posture: leaning forward shows eagerness, acceptance, or interest; slumped over shows discouragement.

The messages we send through these expressions and gestures play a key role in people’s interpretation of the words we speak, strongly influencing how we are viewed. John Locke, a British philosopher of the 1600s, said, “I have always thought the actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts.”

In today’s lesson I want to focus on the destructive consequences of unattractive body language and the negative messages we send based on our uncontrolled feelings and emotions. If you wish to communicate well, then it makes sense to understand how you can (and cannot) use your body to say what you mean.

What we see consciously

To quickly grasp the importance of this subject, consider these comments that co-workers have said. What body language signaled this response? What inner emotion was each person experiencing?

1.  “He certainly got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

2.  “I guess she didn’t get the sale yesterday.”

3.  “He must have stayed out partying last night.”

4.  “What’s she in such a huff about?”

5.  “Wow! He looks like he’s just been run over by a truck.”

All of these attention grabbers had a negative impact on how co-workers viewed them.

What we register sub-consciously

The intriguing side of body language is that what we see affects us at the subconscious level as well—meaning that we notice things intuitively without stopping to consciously think about them. What makes this disturbing is the fact that the signal we give off through our body language creates lasting images of who we are and it influences people’s opinions of us without a conscious thought.

If you harbor hard feelings or have a bad attitude, you don’t need to wonder if people know. They do and it never reflects well on you. If you are pouting because your idea wasn’t accepted, you can be assured that everyone in the office knows and it’s impacting their judgment of you.

The messages you allow your body to give off not only influence how you are viewed at that very moment but, when repeated over time, play a significant role in the way your brand is etched in their minds.

As an example, if something doesn’t go your way and your body language tells everyone you’re upset, people quickly detect that you’re displeased. If you appear this way every time something doesn’t go your way, then you will likely be viewed as a “big baby,” “a spoiled person,” or “Mama’s boy.”

On a positive side, if you handle a challenging disagreement without appearing rattled, then people will think, “I’m impressed by the way she handled that situation.” If you continue to control your emotions and body language, then you will become known as someone who’s in control of your actions and behavior.

Recognizing destructive body signals

It’s important to recognize destructive body language so that you can become aware of the messages you are broadcasting. Remember that your posture, gestures, and mannerisms can overpower the words you speak and influence people’s assessment of you.

What body signals would convey a message for the following negative feelings?
Aggravation, frustration, disgust, depression, distraction, annoyance, skepticism.

Controlling your body language

If you want to be held in high regard, then it’s critical that you learn how to control the signals you give through your body language, especially the negative ones.

1. The first step in controlling your body language is awareness. Start paying attention to the non-verbal signals you are sending. This is not about trying to control one element of your body language, such as a specific facial expression. It’s the big picture message you are sending that results from a cluster of indicators.

2. The second step is to control your emotions and feelings, especially your negative ones. Some of the most undesirable non-verbal messages we send stem from what Zig Ziglar called, “Stinking thinking.” What we choose to think about when faced with a challenging situation is a choice. The choice we make is often communicated before one word comes out of our mouths.

I want to challenge you to start being aware of the messages you are sending though your body language. Take control of your emotions and feelings and don’t allow yourself to display non-verbal language that could have a negative impact on how you are viewed.

Body language plays a significant role in all aspects of work and business as well as in relationships at home and in the community. Control your emotions and avoid those signals that can destroy the image of the person you want to become.

Click here to visit the site and/or comment on this post.

About the Author: Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 30 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts. (Todd’s podcasts are ranked #22 in America’s top 100 podcasts and #1 in the personal and development field.)

Related Posts:

Controlling Your Emotional Energy

What’s Your Brand?

How Likable are You?

The Ripple Effect of a Smile

Modeling Builds Rapport

The Fundamentals of Eye Contact

Make Your Appearance an Asset

Preferred Methods of Communication

The Power of Self-Talk

What We Can All Learn From American Idol

10 First Impressions That Matter

What Are You Doing That Bugs People?

10 Reasons Your Weight Matters

How to Quickly Deal With Discouragement

10 Ways to Handle Difficult Conversations

Beware of the Green-Eyed Monster

10 Verbal Communication Skills Worth Mastering

How to Handle Disagreements

Top 10 Soft Skills to Master in 2011

  • EmailEmail
  • FacebookFacebook
  • TwitterTwitter
  • StumbleUponStumbleUpon
  • DiggDigg
  • Del.icio.usDelicious
  • RedditReddit
  • GoogleBuzz
  • ShareThis

  • I love your idea of combining blog posts with audio recordings, Todd. Great stuff.

  • HI Martin,

    Yes, it's really quite simple. I write a blog post, then go in my closet and record it on a $250 hand held recording device. My daughter edits it, adds the music and sends it to me as an MP3 file. I then send the image, audio file and blog post to my son-in-law who loads it into Wordpress.

    If you ever want to know more, please let me know.

    Todd

  • What a great post and something we often overlook when talking about communication! Have you read Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink"? The whole book is about first impressions - especially those that our brain makes instantaneously without our conscious effort. Its called "thin slicing" and is a very interesting concept.

    One thing I would note/add to your post is that while facial expressions are universal (a genuine smile communicates pleasure in any culture), head or hand gestures and postures are not invariable. For example: the twist of the head that appears to signal "no" or "I don't care" to a westerner actually communicates agreement in India. Or in some Latin American countries, the correct, polite listening posture is sitting straight-backed, formally, in one's chair in a manner that feels too cold/tense to westerners. Leaning forward can be seen as too familiar. Those working in international business would be wise to study the different "tells" in the cultures a part of their meetings and personal interactions.

blog comments powered by Disqus