Speak clearly with your nonverbal communications

Written on Nov 30, 2017

By Molly Ryan, content & community manager

Professional Primer is our series to help you navigate the tricky world of business etiquette. Read past posts online here.

As a leader, what you say matters. But what you’re not saying might matter more.

Holly Klinger“The majority of our communications is nonverbal,” said Holly Klingler, a consultant for Nonverbal Matters. “I think, many times, we come in wanting to say what we want and put our best self forward, but the underlying element, which is our nonverbal (communication), is really telling the true story. And, that’s important to be aware of.”

Klingler spoke recently about nonverbal communication at OSCPA’s Columbus Accounting Show.

In just seven seconds, we judge confidence, intelligence, kindness and the other person’s comfort level. In most cases, that’s barely enough time for someone to introduce themselves. This assessment is based on “nonverbals” such as:

  • Gestures
  • Facial expressions
  • Tone and volume
  • Proximity
  • Touching

And you might think you don’t touch other people very often in professional settings, but one way you touch nearly every person you meet is a handshake. People make many judgments based on that initial contact. If a handshake is limp or weak, we might think the person is also weak or perhaps shy. If their handshake is firm, we think they’re powerful and important.

It’s good to be aware of these “nonverbals” as they relate to other people, but it’s also good to be aware of our own.

For example, women tend to nod their heads in agreement and to show they are listening. Men tend to nod only when they are agreeing. So, nodding might indicate to a colleague or supervisor that you are agreeing, even if you’re only trying to show that you heard and understood what they’ve said. This can cause misunderstandings later.

It’s also been shown that nodding can prolong a conversation, which could be helpful if you’re trying to extract more information (or a hindrance if you’re trying to end it).

“When we coach ourselves and when we want to communicate, we have to be just as aware of the nonverbal as we are of the verbal aspect,” Klingler said.

She recommends doing what’s comfortable, which will generally make others around you comfortable because body language also is contagious. If you are sitting or standing in an open stance, you will encourage others around you to do the same. On the flip side, if you look nervous or if you’re having trouble focusing on a meeting, others in the meeting might pick up on this and grow more nervous, as well.

For more helpful tips or to learn more about nonverbal communication, visit Nonverbal Matters. Missed the Columbus Accounting Show? That’s a bummer, but you can catch Klinger Dec. 14 at the Northwest Ohio CPE Conference; and Dec. 19 at the Northeast Ohio CPA Conference.

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