Your Nonverbal Communication Is Way More Important Than You Realize

nonverbal communication

Exuding confidence is key to your career success. And the old saying is true: It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. We chatted with noted communication expert and author Kelly Decker about how to convey confidence through your nonverbal communication.

Whether you’re interviewing for a job, asking for a raise or pitching an idea to your team, it’s critical to come across as polished and self-assured. That won’t happen if your nonverbal communication is poor. Fidgeting in your chair, avoiding eye contact or nervously weaving “uh” and “um” into every sentence doesn’t exactly connote confidence or authority.

To help you boost your nonverbal communication skills, I spoke with Kelly Decker, president of Decker Communications and coauthor of Communicate to Influence: How to Inspire Your Audience to Action.

Doug White: Do you think job seekers and employees underestimate the power of nonverbal communication? Just how important is nonverbal communication to conveying confidence?

Kelly Decker: As a job seeker, your goals are to convey trust, to be credible and to exude likability. Your nonverbal signals have a huge impact on whether or not you achieve any of these goals. When hiring managers listen to you speak, they are deciding whether or not to trust you, whether or not they like you, whether or not they believe you.

Through your nonverbal communication — what we call the “Behaviors of Trust” — you can make the connection with eye communication, keep them tuned in with your energy and boost your credibility. Lightness is key to likeability, so be sure your expression shows warmth and excitement.

DW: Why is consistency between our words and our gestures, posture, expressions and voice so critical?

KD: When there is an inconsistent message, we trust what we see more than what we hear. It’s as if you never said the words. For example, if you are saying something positive like, “I increased revenue by 200 percent,” but you are scowling and crossing your arms, it is more likely to be interpreted as negative than positive. The visual channel dominates.

DW: In Communicate to Influence, you write that eye communication is the No. 1 nonverbal communication skill because it either makes or breaks our connection with our audience. How long should you hold eye contact? Should you hold it longer during a salary negotiation and when asking for a raise?

KD: Eye contact shows interest, confidence and engagement, whereas a lack of eye contact can come across as dishonest and uncertain. In a one-on-one situation, hold eye contact for 7 to 10 seconds. This should feel pretty natural. After 7 to 10 seconds, we typically break to look away, then lock back in for another 7 to 10 seconds. Maintaining eye contact longer than 10 seconds feels downright creepy.

During a salary negotiation or when asking for a raise, your goal is to be confident, not instigate a stare down. In a larger group, 3 to 5 seconds is a good amount of time to maintain eye contact with any one person before moving to another member of the group.

DW: We know that “upspeak” is problematic. What other mistakes do people make when it comes to pitch, pace and volume?

KD: The key to pitch, pace and volume is variety. Vary your cadence and volume to keep your audience tuned in. Monotone pitch and pace makes you want to snooze. You want to keep them engaged!

One final note on volume: Dial up or down depending on the size of the room. If you are having a one-on-one interview in a small room, no need to shout. If you have a soft voice, try pushing your voice out toward your audience, not up — that’ll just seem like you are yelling at your kids.

DW: You also write in the book that nervous gestures and using filler words will undermine your message and can lead others to assume that you’re not confident. Any tips for those of us who play with our hands or fall into the “um” trap?

KD: The best way to eliminate filler words is to pause. Take a breath instead of saying “um.” Slowing down will give you more credibility, and it will give your interviewer a chance to process, too.

Gestures can be a great thing — when you move your hands and arms to match your content. They can also be distracting, especially when your gestures are fidgety or repetitive.

We all have a nervous gesture. Start by figuring out what yours is, and then try to make adjustments. Rest your hands by keeping them comfortably on the table in front of you or at your sides between gestures to keep the focus on your confidence.

DW: Any last-second advice on communicating self-assurance for someone reading this who is heading into a job interview or salary negotiation?

KD: In either a job interview or a salary negotiation, you must frame your point of view to match that of the business. Be sure to consider the perspective of your listener or listeners. Make sure that every response is framed around how you can help the business and fill a need. This will help you show your value.