Improve Your Nonverbal Communication Skills

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 3 January 2023

Published 25 August 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Communication is important for building both professional and personal relationships. The skills you need to communicate come in two main forms: nonverbal and verbal communication. In this article, we discuss what nonverbal communication is, explore the different types, and explain how to improve your nonverbal communication skills to succeed in the workplace.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

What is nonverbal communication?

Nonverbal communication is any form of communication that does not involve what people say or hear. It is all about how you transmit information through body language. It involves your physical expressions, mannerisms, appearance and physiological body changes like blushing. Verbal communication, in comparison, is more obvious. It involves what people say and what others hear.

People communicate nonverbally based on instinct, such as smiling when they feel happy. Therefore, you can analyse how someone is feeling or what they might be thinking based on their nonverbal cues. You can use nonverbal communication training to help you develop these skills in order to communicate and understand others better.

Related: 4 Types of Communication (With Examples)

Different types of nonverbal communication

Before you can learn how to communicate non-verbally or how to improve your nonverbal communication skills, you need to understand the categories of nonverbal communication. Here are some different types of nonverbal communication with examples of each:

Posture

Your posture refers to how you position your body depending on how you feel in different situations. For instance, if you feel confident, you might stand more upright with your shoulders back. Purposefully using this kind of posture can help you create a good first impression on potential employers.

Related: Positive Body Language: Definition, Examples and Importance

Facial expressions

Facial expressions are one of the most important nonverbal cues used in communication. They include the movement of your eyes, mouth and facial muscles. For example, winking is a facial expression that is better to avoid in a professional work setting. It implies that you are sharing a private joke with someone. Smiling is another type of facial expression. Your smile is a positive form of nonverbal communication that creates a friendly atmosphere and makes people feel welcomed.

Eye contact

Eye contact is nonverbal communication that takes place when people's eyes meet. When you maintain eye contact with someone, it shows that you are interested and engaged in what they have to say.

Related: 12 Essential Communication Techniques for All Professionals

Gestures

Gestures involve movements and signals with the hands, arms, head, neck and legs. The gestures that you use depend on what you are trying to express. People make gestures when arguing, demonstrating something or communicating silently across a room.

For example, you might clap after someone finishes a speech as a sign of approval or wave your hand to say hello or goodbye to someone. Giving your teammate a high five is another popular nonverbal cue that you can use to celebrate a victory or a job well done.

Read more: Guide: Using Body Language for an Interview (With 9 Ways)

Tone of voice

How you say something is often more important than what you say. The tone of your words is a type of nonverbal cue. By varying your inflection, volume, timing and pace of voice when speaking, your words can communicate different meanings. For example, when someone yells in surprise, it may indicate a sense of alarm.

Touch

A touch is a nonverbal form of conveying information that people use to comfort or support others, such as hugging someone or patting them on the back. Shaking hands is another form of touch. You might use this type of nonverbal communication when greeting someone you know or meeting someone new.

Appearance

The way you dress or style your hair can tell your potential employers a lot about your personality and professionalism. Your choice of attire is also a way to demonstrate your level of confidence and personality. It also helps determine how people respond to you. People can take you seriously or dismiss you as a potential candidate for a job based on how you dress alone. For example, wearing brightly coloured formal clothing can make you look confident and professional while showing that you have a vibrant personality.

Related: What To Wear To a Job Interview

Physiological changes

Physiological changes are how your body reacts when you feel certain emotions. For example, when you feel excited, your heart rate may increase, and when you feel nervous, you may start to sweat or blush.

Importance of paying attention to nonverbal communication cues

It is easier to understand how people think and feel in the workplace once you learn more about nonverbal communication skills. Here are some reasons why it is important to pay close attention to nonverbal communication:

Know when people disapprove or approve

When you see someone shaking their head from side to side, it typically means they disagree. This is a nonverbal signal that shows disapproval in response to a question or statement. When someone raises their voice or crosses their arms, it also physically shows that they disapprove or are unhappy in general. It is important to note when someone disapproves so that you can decide how to handle the situation to ease the tension.

Nonverbal communication can also show you when someone agrees with you. For example, they may nod their head to show that they understand you or approve of your ideas or thoughts. This may tell you that you can go ahead with a project or a decision in the workplace. Similar positive signs of approval include clapping, a firm handshake, a high five and a thumbs up.

Confirm that people are engaged

When someone maintains eye contact with you, it means that they are engaged in the conversation and have an interest in what you are telling them. Other engagement signs include making hand gestures, leaning toward the listener and nodding your head when others are talking.

When you improve your nonverbal communication skills by learning to read nonverbal cues, you can gauge someone's level of interest while you are talking to them. If they seem physically engaged, it confirms that they understand you and want to hear what you have to say. If people seem disengaged, you can use this information as a cue to alter your delivery.

Understand comfort levels

When people frown, restlessly move about or shy away from another person, it shows that they are not comfortable with their current situation. In comparison, when you see someone smiling, leaning toward the speaker and seated in a relaxed manner, it means they are comfortable and at ease. Another sign of comfort is when someone uses physical touch as a nonverbal cue, such as greeting you with a hug. This shows that they are comfortable around you and likely know you well.

Knowing how comfortable people are will enable you to intervene if needed to change an uncomfortable situation. It's especially good to know what cues to look for if you are hosting an event or managing a group of people.

How to improve your nonverbal communication skills

Nonverbal communication tends to be subtle, so it can be challenging to interpret, but it generally provides an honest perspective of what someone is thinking and feeling. Since this type of communication can be involuntary, it is important to recognize and improve your own skills. Here are some steps you can take to improve your ability to engage in nonverbal communication:

1. Start with a body language test

Take note of the ways you use body language every day. Pay close attention to your body language and your facial expressions, and think about your posture during meetings, presentations and casual exchanges. After you have assessed your body language, take note of how others respond to your nonverbal cues.

2. Notice how your emotions reflect physically

All emotions have physical effects. You need to pay attention to how your body feels when you experience different kinds of emotions, such as when you are bored, happy or frustrated. For example, if you experience anxiety, you may feel a tightness in your stomach to go along with that emotion. If you develop self-awareness about how you feel and how your emotions affect your body, you can begin to control how your body expresses itself physically.

Related: Examples of Self-Awareness in the Workplace (With Benefits)

3. Take control of how you communicate nonverbally

When you communicate with others using facial expressions or body language, pay attention to what you are doing. It's important to express positive body language when you're alert and happy about your surroundings. You can also use your body language to support what you say if you feel anxious or confused about something, such as by furrowing your brow. Additionally, you can use your body language as a way to make your verbal communication more meaningful and clear when you convey a message or ask a question.

Related: How to Improve Communication Skills (With Tips)

4. Copy effective nonverbal cues

If there are certain facial expressions or body language signals that you find effective in certain settings, copy them to improve your own nonverbal communication. For example, if you like when people nod their heads to express approval and positive feedback, use that in your next presentation or meeting when you feel the same way. By practising successful methods of nonverbal communication, you'll be able to improve your skills and communicate more naturally in the future.

Related Articles

How To Become an Effective Communicator (Plus Tips)

Explore more articles