Improve Your Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace With These Quick and Easy Tips

The nonverbal communication you display in the workplace can significantly affect how you are perceived. Here’s how to send the right signals.

“Thanks so much for your time and help.” Imagine a coworker smiling as he expresses his gratitude, shaking your hand firmly and looking you directly in the eyes. Now imagine him speaking those same words while he diverts his gaze and shoves his hands in his pockets. The verbal message hasn’t changed, but the nonverbal cues tell a much different story.

The bottom line is that it’s not just what you say at work that matters. The nonverbal signals you send also communicate a great deal to your boss and colleagues. While your verbal and written communication abilities are clearly important, your nonverbal communication in the workplace also can impact your career prospects. Help your cause by taking these tips:

Mind your movement and mannerisms

Eye contact, which conveys engagement, is arguably the most critical nonverbal cue. But your posture speaks volumes too. A straight back and lifted chin demonstrates confidence, while hunched shoulders and a bowed head suggests timidity.

Be mindful of your mannerisms during meetings, especially if you’re feeling bored, irritated or anxious. Toying with jewelry, squirming in your seat, excessively pointing and constantly checking your watch or glancing at your phone can all be seen as distracting, annoying or even disrespectful. What do you do with your hands? Heed the advice of communication expert Kelly Decker, president of Decker Communications, for how to use your gestures to your advantage. 

Watch your tone

Your speaking style matters just as much as the words you speak. Inflection, volume and the speed at which you talk can make or break your message. Depending on how you say something, you can either come across as grateful or sarcastic, assured or worried, eager or reluctant.

For example, upspeak — the practice of speaking in a rising tone of apology or questioning — is particularly problematic and it can undermine your message by telling listeners that you’re nervous or uncertain. If you feel your speaking style could be limiting your career, consider working with a mentor or even a private voice coach.

Pay attention to your appearance

In addition to your eye contact, gestures and tone, your personal appearance is also a big part of your nonverbal communication in the workplace. It signals how seriously you take your job and yourself as a professional. Whether you wear an outfit that’s business-casual or more formal will depend on your work environment. But in all cases, be sure your attire is clean and neatly pressed. And remember that you can dress up any outfit by wearing a smile.

Be attuned to others

Knowing how to read body language is another important part of nonverbal communication in the workplace. When someone is talking to you, be an active listener and give your full attention. When you’re speaking, take note of the listener’s facial expressions and mannerisms so that you can respond appropriately. For example, if a coworker is fidgeting or pointing a foot away it might be time to wrap up the water cooler conversation. If the intern’s brows are furrowed in confusion, pause and ask if she has any questions for you.

Not everyone is a natural master of nonverbal communication in the workplace. But with a little time, effort and focused attention, you can become one.