The Ultimate Guide To Non-Verbal Communication Skills

Updated 7 September 2023

Strong communication skills are important in establishing personal and professional relations. There are two main types of communication: non-verbal and verbal. Most people know how to use verbal communication in daily life, but communicating in a non-verbal manner is often unintentional and provides enough information about people and incidents. In this article, we explain what non-verbal communication means, why it is useful, how to understand it and how to improve your own communication style.

What Are Non-Verbal Communication Skills?

Non-verbal communication skills are those related to body languages, such as eye contact, gestures, facial expressions and vocal tone. Conversely, in verbal communication, you use text, signs or conversation to express yourself. This kind of communication reveals a lot about how you transfer information, approach others and empathise.

If you learn and pay attention to communication that is non-verbal, it will likely prove to be an invaluable skill to advance in your career.

Related: How To Be A Good Listener (With Tips And Benefits)

Types Of Non-Verbal Communication

You can use different types of non-verbal communication to communicate different messages. The different types include:

  • Body language: People understand your message in part by the way you position your body. For example, if you are feeling nervous or angry, you might cross your arms.

  • Gestures: These can be intentional or unintentional. For example, you might see Americans using a 'thumbs up' sign to express their positive feelings about something.

  • Facial expressions: This is the most common way of communicating in a non-verbal manner. When using facial expressions, people usually communicate through their eyes, eyebrows, mouth and facial muscles. It is useful in communicating both information and emotion.

  • Touch: Some people use touch to be expressive, for example, to give support or comfort. Make sure to use it sparingly and only when you know how the receiving party will feel about it.

  • Tone: Tone emphasises your message. It can express delight, sadness, politeness or anger in a voice. People need to hear the appropriate tone to pay attention to your message, especially when you are addressing a large number of people. A lively and versatile tone sounds more expressive and will grab the interest of your audience to focus on your message. You can only make your point clear when you have your audience's attention.

  • Appearance: Through appearance, you create a positive or negative first impression on others. The way you present yourself shows your interest, aesthetic taste and self-discipline habits. Therefore, you need to dress appropriately and look appealing when going for an interview. A well-groomed appearance can increase your chances of landing a job.

  • Space: Maintaining space during conversations is polite, but the distance you stand at can show your level of comfort with someone.

Related: Common Business Communication Skills And Their Importance

How To Interpret Body Language?

Everyone uses different body language for communication. However, there are some common cues to interpreting what someone is saying. Even though it is challenging to read body language, it is an important skill to advance in your career. When communicating, it is useful to listen to what someone says verbally and non-verbally. Some key steps to understanding non-verbal statements include:

  1. Pay attention to the eyes. Eyes give away a lot of information if you watch them closely. For instance, you know a person wants to continue their conversation with you if they are trying to keep eye contact. Conversely, they may move their eyes away if they are not interested or truthful. The direction of someone's glance can also tell what they might be thinking. If they are looking at the door, they might want the conversation to stop.

  2. Observe posture clues. The way a person is standing or sitting while communicating reveals a lot about their interest in a conversation. For example, if they are standing or sitting with their back straight and shoulders facing backwards, they are listening, engaged and open to the information or ideas you are presenting. On the other hand, if they have a poor posture with raised or slouched shoulders and a bent spine, they may be angry, anxious or nervous.

  3. Look at arm position. The position of the arms is another way of finding out if a person is interested. Arms on the table, to the sides or any other open style, showcase a person's positive feelings and readiness to absorb information. If you find closed or crossed arms, the person might be feeling or experiencing some kind of negative emotion.

  4. Read the position of legs and feet. The way a person places their feet on the ground shows their interest to the observer. If their feet are placed evenly on the ground, it means they are open and ready to listen to your ideas. If you find their legs crossed or in a closed formation, they might be less interested in communicating with you.

  5. Examine facial expressions. A person with tight lips, a furrowed brow or a frown on their face might be angry, confused or another negative emotion. In such a case, you may want to pause and confirm if it is true. If you are talking to someone with gently raised eyebrows, relaxed facial muscles and a soft smile, this usually means they like the message you are communicating.

Related: How to Succeed in a Virtual Interview

Replying To Non-Verbal Communication

Be careful when replying to communications that are non-verbal. Many times, people are unaware of their non-verbal expressions and might become embarrassed if it is highlighted. If you find someone getting angry, confused or anxious during your communications, redirect your communication style based on their behaviour. You can adjust your own non-verbal communications to make them feel more at ease.

If you think you can help them by asking for their feedback during the conversation, politely address them in the following ways:

  • 'I think you might be feeling overloaded by this information. Do you have any questions?'

  • 'Do you have time to discuss our new process now? If not, we can chat at some other time.'

  • 'Let me know if you need a bit of time to think about this. I am available later this afternoon.'

If you are in a meeting with a group of people, you can always schedule a time to talk to individuals privately if you notice they appear unresponsive to your message. Many people are unaware of their body language, and there is a chance their stance is not in response to what you are saying. You may find it helpful to simply ask, 'How are you doing?'

Related: How To Overcome Communication Barriers: Benefits and Tips

How You Can Improve Your Body Language?

You can follow the steps below to improve your non-verbal communication:

  1. Take time to smile. A smile can put the people around you at ease. It appears welcoming and polite, and encourages people to listen to you more.

  2. Be energetic. Always stay ahead of your competitors. An upright posture appears professional and gives an impression of interest to others. If you are attentive and lively, others will likely see you as an inspiration.

  3. Test your body language. As an experiment, observe your body language for a week. Monitor your posture, facial expression and body language during meetings, presentations and casual exchanges. Note how others react to your facial expressions and posture. Seeing how others respond to your day-to-day non-verbal communications can help you make adjustments as needed.

  4. Understand how your feelings affect you physically. Emotions have both mental and physical effects. Feelings such as frustration, boredom, strength or delight all have different influences on your body. For instance, you might notice a tight stomach when anxious. Becoming aware of how your body responds to your emotions can make you an expert in controlling them and improving your external presentation.

  5. Act intentionally. Be mindful while using body language or facial expressions when communicating with others. Try giving a positive gesture when you are alert, open and content in your surroundings. If you are anxious or confused about a piece of information, you can use a furrowed brow as a form of body language to emphasise what you are saying verbally.

  6. Find and use other effective way of communicating in a non-verbal manner. Watching those around you and how they communicate non-verbally can help you see what works well in your work environment. You can copy a body language form or a facial expression you find useful to improve your non-verbal communication. For example, when you see someone nodding their head to communicate approval, you can also nod your head to show your approval.


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