Effective communication isn’t just about what you say; it’s how you say it and how you present yourself. The frequently cited “7-38-55 Rule,” established by Albert Mehrabian, posits that words only account for 7% of the message we send when communicating with others. Body language (55%) and tone of voice (38%) have much bigger impacts on personal communication.
Non-verbal communication is incredibly important for small- and medium-sized businesses, from interacting with customers to negotiating with vendors and coordinating efforts between employees. Whether you realize it or not, you may be saying more through your body language than your words. Master the art of non-verbal communication, and you’ll effectively navigate critical relationships with clients, business partners, and staff members in person and during online meetings.
These four non-verbal communication cues, in particular, are vital when running or working at an emerging business.
A lot of communication happens through the eyes. One of the easiest ways to show people you’re interested and engaged in the conversation is to maintain eye contact. Repeatedly glancing at objects on your periphery will make you seem distracted or bored. It can also come across as a sign of anxiety or a lack of confidence, which can turn away clients and business contacts.
Maintaining eye contact tells customers they have your full attention, and that you are completely engaged and actively listening to what they have to say. Good eye contact is one of the most fundamental non-verbal communication cues, but it’s also one of the most difficult to master. Too much can make people feel uneasy, and even something as seemingly trivial as how often you blink can have a huge impact on how you come across to others.
The right hand gestures express your ideas more effectively. Hand movement can make a speaker seem more animated and invested in the subject matter. Used correctly, hand gestures punctuate statements and add a subtle visual component to verbal communication.
Like eye contact, there’s a fine line to walk with hand gestures. Going overboard can backfire. Excessive movement can come across as overly aggressive and possibly even threatening.
Make your hand gestures meaningful and deliberate. Unconscious movements like fidgeting, handwringing, running your hands through your hair, or scratching an itch could make you seem anxious or nervous.
Your facial expression can sell an idea or undercut it completely. An employee giving a glowing quarterly performance report will be sending a very different message to business leaders if his or her facial expression suggests fear or concern.
Facial expressions can seem involuntary, but it’s a skill that’s worth mastering to align your non-verbal communication cues with your message. Unlike some other forms of body language, facial expressions are fairly universal across different cultures and societies. Even if two people don’t speak the same language, they can still convey what they’re feeling purely through their faces.
Who can forget the famous ending to “The Graduate,” when Benjamin Braddock successfully crashes Elaine Robinson’s wedding and runs off with the would-be bride? There isn’t a single word of dialog in the scene: The audience watches as the young, rebellious couple’s faces as their initial joy and excitement curdles into an uneasy sense of doubt about the future and the rash decision they just made. It speaks volumes without uttering one syllable.
Having control over slight facial movements like a raised eyebrow or slight crease in the lips is a major asset, no matter your line of business.
Whether you’re standing to make a presentation, sitting down at a conference table or attending an online meeting, your posture says a lot about you. Standing or sitting up straight conveys confidence and leadership, making good posture important for communicating with both customers and co-workers. Conversely, slouching or letting your shoulders hang forward sends the opposite message, telling your audience that you don’t really believe in what you’re telling them.
Non-verbal communication cues are essential, especially in today’s business climate where so many employees work remotely and team members frequently collaborate over video conferencing software. A robust web conferencing solution helps ensure that your staff has the tools to communicate with one another and coordinate projects. Instilling the value of non-verbal communication will make those collaboration sessions more fruitful.
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