The Importance of Nonverbal Communication

Even if words aren’t coming out of your mouth, you’re still saying something.

You’re telling a story about how great your day went, how frustrated you are at the store clerk, or how you feel about that awkward conversation.

Are you consciously aware of what you’re saying with your body language? Do you know how you act, behave, and what nonverbal signals you give off without saying a single word?

Most people aren’t consciously aware of their body language, which is precisely what we’re here to explore – nonverbal communication.

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How to Hear What Isn’t Said

Believe it or not, we are all incredibly perceptive to small little nonverbal cues and gestures other people make even if they aren’t saying something out loud. Nonverbal behaviors are critical to understanding and further growing your communication skills.

Peter Drucker famously said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” He was spot on.

Imagine being able to read minds. You can look at someone next to you, and instantly know how they feel, what they’re thinking, or what they’re about to do next.

You’ll feel like a superhero (you can even go out and buy a cape). The world would be your oyster, and you could predict events past, present, and future — you’d be unstoppable!

As nice as this fantasy sounds, you can actually get pretty close in interpersonal communication.

Mastering nonverbal communication and knowing how to detect small cues or facial expressions in people’s body language is the closest you can get to becoming an actual mind reader.

And if you know the nonverbal signals and exactly what to look for, the battle is half-won.

Modern Communication Today - Nonverbal Communication

So Why Is This Important?

If you’re here reading about nonverbal communication, I’ll guess you deal with people on a frequent basis — specifically, communicating with them in person.

This can be through public speaking in front of a crowd, business presentations, sales, a classroom setting, etc. The list goes on.

Side Note: Check out these 15 super actionable public speaking tips

Here’s what I want you to take in and think about right now:

Nonverbal communication can add clarity to your message, increase trust, and inject interest into the minds of your audience.

I don’t need to tell you why this is important. If you’re talking to a single person and are trying hard to make a sale, or if you’re speaking to thousands and trying to get them to take action on your idea. Nonverbal communication builds what I like to call the “CTI Factor.”

CTI Factor:

  • Clarity
  • Trust
  • Interest

People buy from people they trust. People listen to people they trust. People take action on ideas from people they trust.

Clarity and Interest are just icing on the cake.

Communicating nonverbally the right way can build up the CTI Factor quickly and get you the results you’re looking for.

“Nonverbal communication can add clarity to your message, increase trust, and inject interest into the minds of your audience.”

Various research has pointed out the importance of nonverbal communication and how we use it on a daily basis.

There is a book by Michael Argyle titled, “Bodily Communication,” in which he breaks down and identifies the five primary functions of nonverbal communication.

The Five Primary Functions of Nonverbal Communication:

  1. Reflect Personality
  2. Support Verbal Interaction
  3. Perform Rituals (i.e., greetings and goodbyes)
  4. Communicate Interpersonal Relationships
  5. Express Emotions

As a public speaker or salesperson, for example, you’re going to be primarily in the realm of (1) reflecting personality and (2) supporting verbal interaction.

You reflect your personality by how you act in the spotlight: what gesture you make with your hands, how you walk or pace, your tone of voice, etc.

And you support your verbal message by subtle gestures: Whether you look someone in the eye versus looking away, how you face them, where your eye contact goes, etc.

The remaining three functions are usually reserved for our personal interactions with people in our lives on a day-to-day basis.

The key takeaway here is that nonverbal communication is vital and that it’s the key to building up your CTI (Clarity, Trust, Interest) Factor.

How to Master Nonverbal Communication

Smiley Faces Green Checkmark - Nonverbal Communication

You know that you want to build up your CTI Factor quickly and efficiently, but now you’re probably wondering — how?!

Before we dive in, let’s go over a few ways you communicate nonverbally:

  • Posture
  • Body Movements
  • Facial Expressions
  • Blinking Rate
  • Hand Gestures
  • Eye Contact
  • Touch

If you’re thinking that these might be tough to “track” and monitor in your own interactions, I’m right there with you.

That’s where we jump right into the first action tip:

Action Tip #1: Record Yourself on Video

Since you can’t really see yourself (especially in high-pressure situations where you want to be at your absolute best), this is the answer!

And if you’re thinking, “I hate how I look on video”… you’re not the only one.

When I first tried this technique out, it was for a public speaking course. Every single one of our presentations was videotaped and recorded, with the intent being that after our presentation, we would watch ourselves and improve!

Well… this is easier said than done. Let’s just say that the first time I watched one of my recorded presentations, it was an incredibly “cringe-worthy” experience…

I thought I looked terrible, sounded terrible, and performed terribly. But.. this wasn’t all true.

A lot of the time, we are our harshest critics. And since we can’t see ourselves from other people’s point of view, it takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you haven’t ever been on camera or seen yourself on camera.

Either way, if you get over any excuses you might give yourself for not doing this and actually doing it, I can guarantee you the results won’t disappoint.

You’ll instantly see what you can do to improve your nonverbal communication skills, and how you can make your presentations better overall.

And the best part? The more you record yourself and improve, the better you’ll get on camera and actually start to like what you see!

It’s an iterative process. And it is glorious!

Action Tip #2: Focus on Moment-to-Moment Awareness

If you’re feeling really stressed out, or any strong emotion for that matter, chances are you’re sending out unwanted nonverbal cues without even realizing it.

Think about it. If you’re really nervous about something and you start shaking your knee up and down while sitting down in a chair, everyone around you will notice your knee-shaking out of the corner of their eye.

Even though they might be thinking about something completely different at a conscious level, on a subconscious level, their brain is telling them, “that person over there is pretty nervous about something!”

The critical thing to remember is that stress compromises your ability to communicate effectively.

In the wrong state of mind, you’re more likely to misread people and misinterpret their nonverbal cues.

The solution? Focus on being aware on a moment-to-moment basis. Some people call this “living in the moment,” but instead of talking about life in general, you’re going to be focused on the moment.

Being focused in the moment is going to let you truly let your emotional and nonverbal awareness of others rise, and you’ll be able to communicate better and send better nonverbal cues yourself.

Whenever you start feeling stressed out or start feeling an intense emotion, take a step back right away. Don’t let that feeling take over, but try to take a few deep breaths and let your rational mind rise to the top.

Your goal here is to think rationally about how showing this emotion isn’t ideal in the present moment, and it’ll only throw you off.

Of course, this is far easier said than done! I understand that.

But the first step is recognizing that you have either stress or a strong emotion rising to the surface, and realizing that it might throw you off and push you to begin sending nonverbal cues about that emotion or your stress levels.

This is the point in time where you focus on the moment, take a step back, and calm down before jumping back in.

Action Tip #3: Secrets of Body Language Reading

You can only truly read people effectively once you know what to look for in yourself.

After you can control your own emotions and stress levels (and as a result, control your nonverbal communication), you can begin to sense these things in others intuitively.

This is the first part of reading other people: Don’t forget to trust your instincts!

If you have a gut feeling about something, don’t just dismiss it and let it get away. Your body and mind are telling you something, and you just might be picking up on a mismatch between nonverbal and verbal cues.

For example, you might sense that someone isn’t being truly honest or that something about that individual’s actions just doesn’t add up. These are instinctual gut feelings, a sort of emotional awareness, that often points us in the right direction.

Remember how we as humans are incredibly perceptive beings? Well, our mind picks up on any mismatches between the spoken word and nonverbal cues and lets us know with a “gut feeling.” Listen to it!

The second part is looking at nonverbal communication cues as an entire group instead of singling out one cue, attempting to interpret it.

What do I mean exactly? Well, instead of reading into a single cue or gesture someone does, look at the bigger picture.

What are the multiple cues they are giving off that signal something? What does the current combination of posture, eye contact, tone of voice, and gestures tell me?

While you’re looking at the big picture, analyze how the words they are saying either match or mismatch the cues that they are giving off.

Similar to the gut feeling, this will help you further decipher someone’s nonverbal cues and get a read on their inner emotions and stress levels.

Finally, take both of the ideas we mentioned above and put them together: Look for and pay attention to any inconsistencies!

When we communicate nonverbally, we do so to reinforce what we’re saying. Is somebody saying one thing with their nonverbal cues and another thing with their body language? If so, you know something is up and to pay even closer attention to uncover what’s going on behind the scenes.

Example: Nonverbal Communication in the Job Market

Speech Bubble - Nonverbal Communication

Imagine someone didn’t land a certain job offer, and they’re pacing around wondering why.

It seemed as though everything went well in the interview; they had all the right answers to all of their many questions, and the interviewer even nodded in agreement as they carefully and meticulously answered each question.

Maybe they even prepared well-thought-out questions to show their interviewers that they have a genuine interest in the company.

But for some reason, they ended up not getting the job.

Although there are, of course, numerous reasons as to why a company doesn’t hire certain candidates, there is one often-overlooked reason most people don’t ever consider: nonverbal communication.

A successful interview comes down to not only how you present yourself verbally, but also nonverbally. We know that nonverbal communication is essentially the way we express ourselves without verbalizing what we are thinking or what we are truly trying to say.

There’s a lot that our body language can say about us.

For instance, the interview may be going well in terms of what the interviewers want to hear from a candidate, but then they notice that his body language isn’t matching what he is expressing verbally. This triggers a form of cognitive dissonance, and you instantly lose trust in the eyes of the interviewer.

Maybe the candidate didn’t smile even once in the interview, or they didn’t sound very excited when the interviewers asked them why they wanted to work for their organization. This dissonance in verbal and nonverbal communication can convey things that might not even be true, but it’s what the other side sees and hears. This is precisely the reason why it is absolutely vital to be aware of our body language and nonverbal cues, every moment of every day.

It’s a skill that’s not only important in job interviews, but also in any professional or casual conversation or communication event.

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