“It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Yes, it’s a cliché, but the expression is right on target, especially when it comes to communicating face-to-face with colleagues.
The truth is, our nonverbal language speaks louder than words. In fact, gestures and body language account for over 93% of meaning, while talking makes up only 7%. Thus, what we actually say comes more from our expressions and movements rather than the words we use.
That’s why you need to make sure your verbal and nonverbal messages correspond: If you don’t, you’ll send mixed signals. The key to enhancing these silent skills is to become more conscious about what your nonverbal language is saying.
Here are five ways to communicate more effectively before you even talk:
1. Lean Forward
Imagine a colleague is speaking to you and you’re not entirely interested in what he or she is saying. While you probably wouldn’t do anything as overtly negative as staring out the window or crossing your arms, it’s easy to send nonverbal cues that you’re not paying full attention. That’s why you need to concentrate on your body language to signal that you’re engaged:
- Directly face the person
- Slant your body forward
- Nod your head to show agreement
2. Look Ahead
Eye contact helps you connect with people. It’s also a great way to take someone’s pulse: Is he or she interested, bored, tired, confused?
Of course, effective eye contact doesn’t mean staring; periodically shift your gaze away from the person with whom you are communicating. Most people feel uncomfortable maintaining constant eye contact for an extended period of time.
3. Walk the Talk
Choose gestures that complement your words and enhance the meaning of your message. For instance, if you’re enthusiastic about something you’re communicating to a co-worker or group, show your positive energy by leaning your body forward. Likewise, if you want to stress an important point, raise your arms and use hand gestures for emphasis.
At first, your gestures may seem awkward or rehearsed. However, once you make conscious nonverbal communication a habit, your gestures will feel more spontaneous and natural.
One thing to avoid: fiddling with objects (such as clothing, jewelry, pens) or fidgeting (such as finger-tapping, leg-bouncing). These gestures distract your listener.
4. Make a Face
A smile, raised eyebrow, yawn, and sneer all convey different types of attitudes, emotions, or opinions. To build credibility with others, your face should always show interest and attention, and your expression should be consistent with your message. Don’t try to fake it—people can tell when your facial expression is insincere.
5. Give Voice
Vocal cues (rate, pitch, and volume) can have a dramatic impact on how your message is interpreted. Consider the following examples:
- Speak in monotone and you sound bored and uninterested; speak with too much variety and you come off as dramatic and phony.
- Talk too quickly and people think you’re trying to pull a fast one on them; talk too slowly and you seem uncertain of your message or show a lack of regard for your audience’s time.
- Speak too loudly and you sound bossy or domineering; too softly, and you come across as self-conscious or timid.
While there’s no “right” style, your vocal cues should match the message you’re trying to send, the audience type, and the nature of the occasion. For instance, if you want to emphasize a key point, slow down your rate and increase your volume. If you want to communicate sadness, lower your pitch and volume.
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