Understanding Nonverbal Communication At Work

Everyone makes use of Nonverbal Communication skills. It is funny to imagine that when speaking, not only your words are important, but also your reactions. Interpersonal communication is more than the precise interpretation of your words and the messages that they convey, it also includes an unverbalized message, whether they are not intentional or intentional, which are expressed through your nonverbal behaviors. 

In a formal setting such as your workplace, poor nonverbal communication skills can pass wrong information to your employer and colleagues. It is important to note that each of your reactions and the slightest expression on your face passes information and hints about what is running through your mind.

This article will provide information on the importance of nonverbal communication in the workplace, types of nonverbal communication, the importance of nonverbal communication in the workplace, and how it can be best utilized at work.

What Is Nonverbal Communication?

Nonverbal communication is the transfer of information using nonverbal signals such as eyes contact, appearance,  facial expressions, and posture. It is one of the soft skills that is needed by all but ignored by many. 

Effective communication is important in both professional and personal relationships, however, it is not the words you use that come out loud but your expressions and the unspoken words hidden in your reaction and facial expressions. I am sure you wouldn’t want to speak about something and your reaction meant something else. Both verbal and nonverbal communications are important at work, understanding how each works and affects our credibility is very crucial. 

If you want to communicate effectively, avoid misunderstandings, and enjoy steady, trusting relationships both socially and professionally, you must decipher body language and improve your nonverbal communication skills.

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What Are The Types Of Nonverbal Communication?

There are several types of nonverbal communication skills you should be aware of. They include:

  • Facial expression
  • Body language
  • Movement
  • Paralanguage
  • Posture
  • Touch
  • Gestures
  • Eye contact

1. The facial expression

The facial expression passes a whole lot of messages and is often easy to notice when communicating. Your mouth, eyes, eyebrows, and facial muscles can be effectively used to convey information and emotions.

For instance, frowning the face can communicate disapproval and discontentment.

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2. Body language

Body language refers to the physical reaction and response that engages the whole body. The way you situate your body gives information on how you feel.

For instance, fidgeting can communicate restlessness and discomfort.

3. Eye contact

Making eye contact is one of the most effective nonverbal communication skills. Attention and interest can be strategically communicated through good eyes contact. 

For instance, looking at your phone or staring at the ground when speaking with someone can communicate disrespect or disinterest.

4. Movement

Working slowly or quickly, standing, sitting, moving the leg and arm, or even fidgeting can communicate different messages to people.

For instance, slamming your legs, and making body movements in a meeting can communicate disinterest.

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5. Paralanguage

The importance of nonverbal communication is seen in paralanguage. it is the non-language elements of speech such as pitch, talking speed, intonation, volume, and so on.

For instance, speaking quickly can communicate excitement.

6. Posture

Your comfort level can be communicated by the way you sit or stand. There is a level of professionalism that is associated with your posture.

For instance, slouching your shoulders depicts disappointment frustration and tiredness.

7. Touch

Physical touch is commonly used to communicate comfort or support. However, this form of communication should only be used when you perceive that the receiving party is okay with it. Do not use physical touch to communicate anger, frustration, or negative emotion.

For instance, a pat on the shoulder can communicate encouragement

8. Gestures

Most often gestures are used intentionally and unintentionally to communicate information to others. The use of gestures differs across communities.

For instance, displaying a thumbs-up can articulate confirmation and a satisfactory feeling.

How Important Is Nonverbal Communication?

The importance of nonverbal communication skills cannot be overemphasized. There’s a strong message passed across people’s emotions when they communicate verbally, this message is often true, stating the condition of the heart and original intention. 

For instance, your colleague at work barges into the office looking all gloomy and sad, if you care to ask what the matter was, your possible response could be “I am fine!”

But which would you rather believe, the spoken words, or unspoken words hidden in her reactions? I’m sure you will go for the latter, says Darlene Price, the writer of ‘Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results’. 

Understanding Nonverbal Communication at Work

At work where you meet people of different personalities and backgrounds with different ways of communicating, having interpersonal nonverbal communication skills will help you understand and relate with your employers and fellow employees in the best way.

Research suggests that the nonverbal communication of a man carries between 65% to 75% more impact than the actual words spoken.

When verbal communication only deals with the words spoken, nonverbal communication analyses the voice tone, facial expressions, eyes contact, appearance, and other nonverbal gestures.

However, misconceptions and misunderstandings can set in while interpreting words using nonverbal communication skills due to multicultural diversity in gestures, facial expressions, body language, and space.

For instance, smiling at a stranger in the United States is seen as a welcoming and warm sign but in Russia smiling at a stranger is impolite. In Asia, depending on the context, smiling can connote that you are embarrassed or unhappy.

So, therefore, understanding your audience is important to avoid misunderstandings that can come up in verbal and nonverbal communication.

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Tips To Understanding Nonverbal Communication At Work

To improve your ability to effectively communicate, there are proven tips that can assist you to learn how to read the nonverbal signals of others. They are;

  • Concentrate on the tone of voice
  • Attend to nonverbal signals
  • Eyes contact
  • Use signals to add meaning
  • Take note of incongruent behaviours

1. Concentrate on the tone of voice

The tone of voice conveys information ranging from anger to disinterest and enthusiasm.

When you note the voice tone of your colleague at work, you will be able to catch the glimpse of what your colleague is trying to communicate even if their verbal communication says otherwise. Then you will be able to respond in accordance.

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2. Attend to nonverbal signals

There are many ways people communicate pieces of information. You need to check for their gestures, eye contact, body movements, and postures to get signals that disseminate crucial messages that are not put into words.

Attentiveness to other people’s unspoken behaviours is a nonverbal communication skill that will help you improve your ability to communicate with others.

3. Eyes contact

Making good eye contact is another crucial nonverbal communication skill. When your colleague fails to look into your eyes, it communicates that they are either avoiding or trying to hide something. Making good eye contact connotes attentiveness and interest in the topic of discussion.

On the other hand, it is crucial to note that making good contact is not equivalent to staring aggressively into someone’s eyes.

4. Usage of signals

 Remember that nonverbal and verbal communication works together to communicate a message. At work, you can detect unspoken words from your colleagues and clients through the study of their body language.

Body language supports and reinforces spoken words, hence the importance of nonverbal communication through body signals should not be overlooked.

5. Take Note of Incongruent Behaviours

Your colleague at work can show incongruent behavior when their words are not agreeing with their nonverbal behavior. For instance, your colleague may claim to be happy while staring at the ground and squinting the face.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Are there universally understood non-verbal markers?

Behaviours such as pointing, caressing, smiling, and staring aggressively are non-verbal markers that have a universal understanding, and so can be clearly understood universally.

What are the impacts of nonverbal communication?

There are significant roles played by nonverbal communication in our lives. Nonverbal communication can improve a person’s ability to engage, relate and establish meaningful interaction in day-to-day life.

Are there barriers to nonverbal communication?

Studies have stated that misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and miscommunication of nonverbal messages can arise when the receiver and the sender do not have a full understanding of each other’s culture and language.

Do emotional barriers affect effective communication?

When holding back emotions you are restricted from having effective communication with your teammates. Thus, preventing you from listening attentively to others and accepting their point of view.

What is a nonverbal disorder?

This is a learning disability that causes difficulty with visual-spatial, motor, and social skills. Children with a nonverbal learning disorder can write well and are often well-spoken but they struggle with comprehension of abstract concepts and social cues.


Having nonverbal communication skills is desirable for ineffective communication. These skills make you a valuable colleague, teammate, and leader at work.

However, before you give an interpretation of a person’s nonverbal reaction, make sure you have a good knowledge of their background to avoid misinterpretation.


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