Our Non-Verbal Communication Matters

Published: Monday, January 4, 2016

One day I received feedback after a meeting took place. My manager graciously let me know that my opinions on various topics were well communicated. There was only one problem, I didn’t say a word. My body language, facial expressions, and the way I made eye contact with others was truly transparent and exposed for all to see. I constantly have to work in meetings to make sure that my non-verbal cues are appropriate for the time and location.

The facial expressions and body language tell it all. Luau performance in Kauai.

Lately, I have been spending time observing my behavior and the behavior of others so that I can be more empathetic, respectful, and caring. I have noticed that the non-verbal communications mechanisms we employ sometimes send the loudest message. It is important to recognize how you use these communication styles and be aware of how others may interpret them.

Don’t Misinterpret Non-Verbal Communication

Most people automatically see non-verbal communication mechanisms and use them as the source for judging a person’s mood or behavior. This is very dangerous. It is like making assumptions on only a small portion of information. As someone who regularly has virtual meetings, chat sessions, etc. it is easy to leap to wrong conclusions when I physically view some communication mechanisms. Here are 5 types of communication that are non-verbal.

Body Language

Body language is the epitome of a non-verbal communication style. Our body language for the most part is automatic. There are certain actions we may do such as wringing our hands when nervous, folding our arms when we aren’t interested, turning away and not looking people in the eye maybe out of disrespect. At least that is how others perceive it. Take the time to observe two body languages that you use in certain situations that you may want to consciously change. For me, one is not making eye contact when others are talking. I truly am only half listening.

Distance or Space

Have you ever noticed when many people are interested and excited that the actual space between them and the object /person of their interest decreases? Do you want a front row seat for the concert or to sit in the back row at the seminar. This could say a lot about your engagement. I often see this communication mechanism in meeting rooms. Observe where people sit. Do they feel more comfortable by their friends or are they ok with being at the furthest point from the discussion. I can usually tell from where people sit, what type of day they are having.

Facial Expressions

I constantly have conversations with my son about this communication style. Maybe because this is one that I have to constantly evaluate. I struggle with the eye roll, the smirk, and the look of feigned disbelief. Even when I work hard to become expressionless, that in itself tells people a lot about me.

Silence or No Communication

This is one that may not seem obvious, but it is always at the front of my list. Silence actually speaks volumes in meetings, not responding to email, even the pause before answering a question. It is always tempting to respond quickly, fill up quiet space, or just make noise. Practicing silence as a communication tool is extremely valuable as it can show that you are listening and thinking. It can also be used as a way to place importance on the conversation. Many times, I don’t answer “urgent” emails from others simply because they aren’t urgent to me.

when words make noise, silence can talk.

-Ernest Agyemang Yeboah


While this is more of a nuanced communication mechanism, I believe that how we look infers to a lot of people how we are going to talk, act, walk, and be part o the conversation

Here is a more detailed list of non-verbal communications along with some psychology around interpretation. What forms of communication do you see outside of this list?