Module Six: Nonverbal Communication

We all communicate nonverbally. The image that we project from our nonverbal communication affects the way that our spoken communication is received. While interpreting body language is important, it is equally important to understand what your nonverbal communication is telling others. It takes more than words to persuade others.




Common Gestures

Many gestures that we make are unconscious movements or mannerisms. Being aware of what our gestures mean will make us aware of what we communicating. The following list is not comprehensive, but it is a good place to start.

Unconscious Gestures:

  • Biting nails: This may mean insecurity or nerves.
  • Turning away: Looking away indicates that you do not believe someone.
  • Pulling ears: Tugging at ears can indicate indecision.
  • Head tilt: A brief head tilt means interest. Holding a tilt equals boredom.
  • Open palms: Showing palms is a sign of innocence or sincerity.
  • Rubbing hands together: Rubbing hands together is a sign of excitement or anticipation.
  • Touching the chin: This signals that a decision is being made.
  • Hand on the cheek: Touching the cheek indicates someone is thinking.
  • Drumming fingers: This is a sign of impatience.
  • Touching the nose: People often associate touching the nose with lying. It can also signal doubt or rejection.


The Signals You Send to Others

You are always sending signals to other people. These signals come through body language, voice, appearance, and personal distance.

  • Body language: Body language includes posture, gestures, and facial expressions.
  • Appearance: A person’s hygiene and dress send signals to others. People make negative assumptions based on a disheveled appearance.
  • Personal distance: Too great a personal distance makes people appear cold. On the other hand, not respecting the personal distance of others will have negative consequences.
  • Voice: Tone is important to the way we communicate. Emotions are conveyed through tone.


It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Miscommunication is a common problem in personal and business relationships. Paying attention to the way that you communicate will help prevent any miscommunications. You must take note of the tone, pitch, and timbre of your voice.

  • Pitch: People tend to naturally respect deeper voices. High-pitched voices are viewed as a sign of immaturity. Try a lower, even pitch. Even a neutral tone can make a person appear weak or insecure when there is a higher pitch at the end of a statement, like questions have.
  • Speed: Keep a moderate pace. Speaking too quickly will cause confusion, and speaking too slowing will make it difficult to keep attention.
  • Loudness: Speak up; quiet voices can be viewed as submissive. Be careful, however, not accidentally yell.
  • Tone: Tone conveys emotion, so avoid sarcasm and condescension. Vary your tone to prevent boring listeners with a monotone presentation.



What Your Posture Says

Posture is the basis of body language communication. People respond well to good posture, and having good posture improves physical and emotional health. Slouching is seen as a sign of insecurity or weakness. Confident body language demands good posture.

Posture Communication:

  • Standing or sitting erect: Standing straight communicates confidence. It will also prevent musculoskeletal pain.
  • Hunching over: This is closed body language and can signal unhappiness or insecurity.
  • Ducking or shrugging the head: This is a protective or submissive move to appear smaller. It is not equated with confidence.

Correct Posture:

  • Stand and sit straight: Straight posture maintains the natural curve of the spine. This is achieved by pulling in the abdominal muscles, pushing the shoulders back, and lifting the chest.
  • Head position: Hold the head upright and look to the front. This will protect the natural shape of the neck.
  • Relaxation: Posture should not be forced or stiff. Someone with straight posture should look and feel relaxed.


Case Study

A supervisor of Nutime Production consistently has low employee evaluations. Employees felt that he was rude and authoritative. The supervisor attempted to be more careful in his choice of words, and he scheduled an assessment to point out his problem. The assessment showed that the supervisor’s tone often conveyed condescension and sarcasm. Additionally, his body language and gestures indicated impatience and aggression. His nonverbal communication was stronger than his words. The supervisor was assigned a communications course.