We can’t not communicate! In every interaction we have with another person, we are sending a message, even if we say nothing at all. Indeed, our very presence and posture give clues and convey non-verbal messages. As a result, we can’t help influencing one another. Knowing how to understand body language is therefore essential for our personal and professional relationships. 

Before a structured language even existed, oral and written, communication took place through symbols and gestures. Today, we still communicate in this way, although we aren’t always aware of it and it can have a direct impact on the understanding of the message you are sending: by either enhancing your reputation or hampering your development at work.

The point is, we can’t not communicate! In other words, in all human interactions, we are conveying a message, even if we are not speaking! Indeed, our very presence and our posture give clues and convey non-verbal messages. As a result, we can’t help influencing one another.

Knowing what we are saying with our body language is therefore vital for our personal and professional relationships.

What is non-verbal communication?

Non-verbal communication is the set of messages we transmit in other ways than through speech, such as the body and facial expressions, including all the body's reactions to various stimuli.

Why is non-verbal communication important?

Communication is at the heart of our relationships. Non-verbal communication is a powerful tool to help us connect properly with others and build good and lasting personal and professional relationships because it helps us express what we feel and what we want to say.

In fact, non-verbal communication is even more important than verbal communication. It represents 97% of the message, making it very significant.

Although what we actually say is more objective and direct, non-verbal communication, with gestures, can confirm or deny what you are saying, and undermine your credibility! Indeed, sometimes the power of non-verbal communication is so strong that it is not even necessary to open your mouth for the other person to understand the message or how you are feeling at that moment.

What are the types of non-verbal language?

Non-verbal communication can be divided into four categories:

          1.    Physical appearance

David Swanson once said: “You'll never get a second chance to make a good first impression". And he was right! Physical appearance is one type of non-verbal communication and that is what is responsible for this famous first impression, which may or may not add to our credibility.

Even though some standards are in the process of being abandoned, especially in the business field, it is clear - whether we recognise it or not - that the way we express our personality through the way we dress is a form of non-verbal communication that will often shape the impression other people have of us.

          2.    Proxemics

This term refers to the analysis of how you use the space around you. The distance (or proximity) that separates you from other people is an indication of the type of relationship you have or want to have with them.

We advise you to take note of this and make yourself aware of the situation before entering into a dialogue, presentation, or conference. This assessment is necessary to give yourself the best chance of success and being understood.

          3.    Paralanguage

Paralanguage refers to all the means of communication that are not part of the vocabulary, but which accompany and reinforce speech: the way of speaking, the intonation of the voice, gestures, etc.
Paralanguage represents 38% of non-verbal language.

The tone of voice, for example, has a huge influence on the way you communicate because it can convey a wide range of information and emotion: ranging from energy, joy, enthusiasm, sadness, disinterest, even anger, etc. Consciously adopting the right tone for your message is an effective way of reinforcing what you are saying and sparking the interest of your audience.

          4.    Kinesics

Kinesics is the best-known mechanism and the one that most people think of when they talk about non-verbal communication. This is body language, made up of gestures, posture, eye contact, head movements, and facial expressions, which come into play as we express ourselves.

What function does non-verbal language serve?

The impact of non-verbal language may make itself feel alone or in combination with verbal language.

It serves multiple functions:

  • Completing the verbal message
  • Taking the place of verbal communication by conveying the whole message
  • Reinforcing the verbal message by repeating or accentuating the words
  • Regulating the verbal discussion
  • etc.

How can you improve non-verbal communication?

Remember that verbal and non-verbal communication work together to convey a message. You can improve your verbal communication by using body language that reinforces and supports what you are saying. This can be particularly useful during presentations or when speaking to a large group of people.

Here are some tips to improve your non-verbal communication.

          Avoid crossing your arms and legs

Crossing your arms and legs indicates a closed attitude to dialogue and that you are therefore not receptive to your interlocutor. Keep your arms and legs uncrossed to show you are open to what is to come ... even if you don't agree with what’s being said!
         
Establish eye contact

Eye contact encourages a connection with others if it is steady and not too intense. Looking into someone’s eyes does not mean staring them in the eye... it’s an important nuance. Too much eye contact can be intimidating and make the other person feel uncomfortable. Conversely, if there is no eye contact, it could be interpreted as insecurity. If you are speaking to a group of people, scan their eyes alternately.

          Think about posture

Think about your posture by keeping your back straight, shoulders relaxed and very slightly back and your neck elongated, to build your self-confidence. Contracting your shoulders or hunching them can suggest insecurity ...

Leaning slightly towards the person who is speaking indicates you are listening and demonstrates an interest in the topic or even approval of the conversation. Leaning back a bit, on the other hand, indicates you are weighing up what the other person is saying ...

In both cases, the idea is to play on this posture in a very subtle way because to do it too much, in the first case, looks submissive and, in the second, appears arrogant.

          Smile

Never underestimate the power of a smile... When the situation allows and it’s appropriate, smiling can help create a relaxing atmosphere and positive energy. This helps to get messages across more easily, to overcome resistance, etc. So why not use it or even take advantage of it?

          Leave your face alone

Touching your face, running your hand through your hair, and scratching your ear are all gestures that can make you seem insecure and also distract your listeners from the content of your speech.

Also, be careful not to frown: this expression might suggest you doubt what the other person is saying, that you are upset, or even angry!

          Watch out for tics

Don’t swing your feet, which shows impatience, or tap your fingers, or fiddle with objects in your hands ... which could betray how you are really feeling because these are tangible signs of anxiety and insecurity!

          Keep your distance 

To feel comfortable, each individual needs their own personal space and to keep a well-defined distance from others according to their character, education, and culture. This corresponds to an imaginary bubble that surrounds a person and that everyone moves around in. Only those considered close confidants are allowed to enter this space.

Be sure to respect a reasonable and appropriate distance in your conversations so as not to create embarrassment to the person you are talking to.

          Mirror the person you are talking to

Synchronising yourself with the other person means unconsciously adopting the same behaviour (posture, gestures, etc.) like them as if you were looking in a mirror. This non-verbal mirroring aims to promote identification and a connection with the other person. This increases the likelihood of developing a good relationship and a feeling of trust!

 

Finally, self-awareness is essential when it comes to communicating in a relevant and effective way to suit the context and the target audience, and also in creating a connection with your audience. The purpose of communication, whether verbal or non-verbal, is for the message to be picked up and understood by the recipient, whatever the environment. Therefore, if you want your message to be clear and well-communicated to achieve your aims, it is your responsibility to ensure you are sending the same message, both verbally and non-verbally. 
Is this something that interests you? Would you like to work on your posture and your non-verbal communication? Did you know you can benefit from support sessions that I offer free of charge as part of our Association to help achieve your objectives, in particular using communication techniques from Neuro-Linguistic Programming? Why not get in touch?

Elizabeth TOUCAS – Executive Strengths Coach & Career Manager – IÉSEG Network

For all requests for coaching/personalised support that you may need or for any request for information on the Career Pole, contact me: e.toucas@ieseg.fr or 06.85.33.01.57.

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