The Quiet Importance of Non-Verbal Communication
Imagine your job involved making a sale in only 7 seconds. What if I told you this is in fact the case every time you meet someone new? A first impression is typically formed within 7 seconds of meeting someone. And the real trick? Most of this 7-second sales pitch happens with little to no talking. Speech only makes up 20-30% of the conversation, but it is effective non-verbal communication that really gets people’s attention. In other words, there may be more to the old maxim of “actions speak louder than words” than you think. So, what can you do to make your first impression count without saying a word?
While much of the specifics of non-verbal communication can vary in each culture, facial expressions appear to be more or less universal. Most people can recognise facial expressions linked to happiness, sadness, anger, and fear at a glance and from this, can guess the mood you might be in when you talk to them. Going in with a smile lets the other person know that you are happy to speak with them and open to what they have to say.
2. Stand up straight
Your posture can tell the other person a lot about your emotions, attitude, and intentions. A “closed” posture (i.e. arms folded, legs crossed, body turned slightly away from the other person) can indicate discomfort or disinterest, while an “open” posture (i.e. directly facing the other person, with one’s hands resting on the arms of the chair) can help the person you’re talking to feel more relaxed themselves. This open posture tells the other person that you are, not only open to hearing what they have got to say, but very interested in what they are saying. Leaning toward the speaker slightly is another way of saying (without speaking), “Please, tell me more.”.
3. Look the other person in the eye
There can be a fine balance to eye-contact in a conversation: frequently breaking eye-contact indicates disinterest and can make the conversation stilted, while eye-contact that is too intense tells the other person that you are trying too hard or possibly that you’re lying. That said, eye-contact is more likely to be continuous, when one is listening rather than speaking. Once a person has said all they wish to say, they may look directly at the other person to indicate that the floor is theirs. On the other hand, if a person is determined not to be interrupted, they may avoid eye-contact while speaking.
4. Be good with your hands
While fiddling with your hair, collar, sleeves or jewellery can give the impression of low confidence and nervousness, certain hand gestures used in a conversation can get people to pay more attention to what you are saying. That said, be purposeful in how you use your hands in a conversation; use them only emphasise certain points of your speech or discussion, not to compensate for a lack of important or interesting information. Some examples of effective hand gestures to compliment your speaking include:
- Listing important points on your fingers.
- Use your hands and fingers to indicate increasing or decreasing amounts.
- Gesturing to yourself or someone else (some sneaky life coaches suggest subtly indicating to yourself when talking about something positive).
- Use your hands to indicate separate ideas or sides.
- Hold your hands at a 45-degree angle with the palms facing to tell the other person that you are speaking honestly.
5. Be a snappy dresser
Your choice in colour, hairstyle and clothing can say as much about you as the rest of your verbal and non-verbal communication. Dressing appropriately and grooming well makes a good impression on any occasion. On the other hand, showing up in a mismatched ensemble and greasy hair can send the message that you are unable, or at worst unwilling, to take responsibility for your own well-being. While some companies do make allowances for casual dress in the workplace, these same companies may also prefer you to put your best foot forward when meeting with clients. So, put a consistent grooming routine in place and get yourself a wardrobe full of office-appropriate work wear. They say, “clothes make the man,” and with the wide selection of professional styles available on Clothing Direct, you can speak volumes without saying a word.
A final word of advice: communication ultimately exists as a sum of its parts. You cannot look at any of the aforementioned forms of non-verbal communication on their own. Nevertheless, keep an eye out for these non-verbal cues to gauge how well your own are being received. Bring these tips, plus an upgraded work wardrobe, into your next meeting and you are sure to nail it in the first 7 seconds.