April 25, 2016

Communication Cheat Sheet Part 2: Nonverbal Cues


A couple weeks ago I posted an article about the power of listening-http://bit.ly/1TMLKYt — and stated that the second most significant skill on my communication cheat sheet is the power of nonverbal communication. Of all the intentional tools to master, how we convey our emotions with the use of our voice, facial expression and body language, will go the furthest towards successful interactions.

There is so often a mismatch between what our words say and what our nonverbal expressions do, and that’s where we get into trouble. Our intention may be to come off as sincere, confident or apologetic, but if our voice, face and body don’t cooperate, the interpretation of our messages will be quite different. Part of the problem is that we cannot see or hear ourselves, and unless we play back a recording of our voice or a video of our presentation, we don’t realize how we come across to others.

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let’s break it down so we overcome the largest barrier to successful communication, knowing that our nonverbal cues account for more than 80% of how our messages are received.

Voice: Ever pondered the way in which vocal quality affects our listeners and impacts our messages? Tone, rate, volume, pitch and vocalized pauses all figure into our conversations, and let others know if we’re bored, excited, nervous, honest, angry, disappointed, relaxed, irritated, or paying attention. When we’re on the phone, on the radio or presenting a webinar, and people cannot see us, our use of voice makes an even more powerful statement, hopefully the one we want.

Face: Studies show that people who smile are perceived as smart, partly because of a relatable factor; but if we smile when we deliver bad news, we come off as offensive. One facial expression doesn’t fit all situations, and just as we need to moderate our voice, we must also vary our countenance. When do we raise our brows, nod or shake our heads, make eye contact, pan the room, look up or down, frown, pucker our lips, scrunch our noses, etc.? Paying just as much, if not more, attention to these choices in addition to our choice of words will elevate our conversations and ensure that our interactions head in our chosen direction.

Body: Motivated movement is the name of the game. Hand gestures, shoulder posture, pacing, standing, sitting, etc. all tell the story behind our communication in interviews, personal and professional conversations. Thin-slicing is a powerful psychological phenomenon in which people size each other up subconsciously and instantaneously. We determine, in a split of a second, based on nonverbal cues, whether the person speaking with and to us is confident, competent, credible and charismatic. Knowing this, we need to make sure our body’s language is aligned with our verbal expressions.

Most of our nonverbal communication is automatic and habitual. But if we become aware of how we sound and look to others, by paying attention and asking for feedback, we can begin the process towards improvement in this area. Try this nonverbal communication exercise:

Conveying Emotions Exercise:
Write down several emotions on index cards. One emotion you’d like to express per index card, including: Compassionate, engaged, concerned, enthused, or whatever emotion you are trying to convey in an upcoming conversation or presentation. Then, to a partner, read the following nursery rhyme, with a vocal quality, facial expression and body language that demonstrates one of the emotions on the cards (don’t let your partner see the emotion written on your card). Ask your partner to write down the emotion they heard in your voice, saw in your face and body, and felt in your expression. See if there is a match and ask your partner for feedback.

Hickory, dickory dock
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one
And down he run
Hickory, dickory dock.

I used this exercise with an executive who recently told me that no matter what she would “say” to her staff, she came off as intimidating and unapproachable to them. I had her write down the emotion she wanted to convey without showing it to me. After she read Hickory Dickory Dock, I guessed the emotion she was trying to express was “irritated and disgusted.” It surprised us both when she revealed that the emotion she was trying to convey was “relaxed.” Another manager in a workshop I facilitated attempted to convey “confidence” but the people at her table listening and watching her presentation of Hickory Dickory Dock gave her feedback that she looked and sounded “angry” and “authoritative.” A participant in that same training was preparing for an interview and wanted to look and sound “assured,” but received feedback that her voice, face and body conveyed “uncertainty.” It’s quite powerful and worthwhile to find out how we communicate nonverbally — and I hope this post and exercise gets you started.

Lee Broekman is a communication coach and trainer. Her company Organic Communication, brings interactive, never boring, always edifying presentations and programs — focused on communication, collaboration and innovation — to your firm or organization.

Find her latest book Successful (Happy) Lawyering on

Click here: https://organiccomm.com/resources/