What you don’t say matters too

Good leaders are good communicators—even when they don’t say a word.

Of the many ways we communicate day to day, nonverbal communication is often overlooked. What we say, write, and show through pictures and graphics receives a lot of attention and coaching. But our use of body language, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, appearance, pauses in speech, and overall presence and use of space communicate volumes as well.

Recognizing nonverbal cues not only helps us understand others, but by applying these cues purposefully ourselves, we can also send clearer and stronger messages.

What are you “saying”?

Effective communication hinges on 5 criteria: audience, message, messenger, timing, and method. Even when your method of delivery is verbal, you should also think about the nonverbal aspects, which don’t all depend on people being able to see you.

Every day we respond to thousands of nonverbal cues and behaviors, such as posture, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, and more. These cues give us insights into what an individual is really thinking and feeling, despite what he or she might be saying. While nonverbal cues are subjective and often vary from person to person, we can convey and glean important information from them.

For example, when you communicate to your team, to coworkers, to your bosses—and to others in general—consider the impact of:

  • Eye contact — Are you making eye contact? If so, is it overly intense or just right?
  • Facial expression — What is your face showing? Is it masklike and unexpressive, or emotionally present and filled with interest? Raised eyebrows? Frowning or smiling?
  • Tone of voice — Does your voice project warmth, confidence, and interest, or is it strained and blocked?
  • Posture and gesture — Is your body relaxed or stiff and immobile? Are your shoulders tense and raised, or relaxed? Are your hands moving or still?
  • Touch — Is there any physical contact? Is it appropriate to the situation?
  • Intensity — Are you flat, cool, and disinterested, or over-the-top and melodramatic?
  • Timing and pace — Is there an easy flow of information back and forth? Do nonverbal responses come too quickly or too slowly?
  • Sounds — Are you connecting? Is your audience making sounds that indicate interest, caring, or concern? Are you responding in kind?
Image is everything

For some people, their body language and nonverbal cues flow naturally. But these are likely the exception. Consider that actors spend years practicing and fine tuning their ability to convey messages and emotions. Politicians, executives, celebrities, athletes, and others the public eye are trained and coached on their presentation style and communication abilities.

Think about how you want others to see you—and how that changes depending on the situation. Perhaps you want to be friendly and approachable when meeting a new colleague. Confident and knowledgeable when interviewing for a job. Firm and decisive when correcting a team member. Empathetic when delivering bad news.

What physical cues can you control to project those images?

Bottom line: Good leaders are good communicators in every way. Pay attention to others to learn from those who communicate well and those who don’t. Leverage all forms of communication as part of your own leadership toolkit.

How can we help your leaders and business excel?