Communicating Nonverbally

Believe it or not, your nonverbal behavior, which is everything you use to communicate other than the words themselves, is far more important than your verbal communication, the words you use. Research indicates that as much as 93% of what we communicate is done nonverbally.

When the words you say and your body language and other nonverbals conflict, which do people believe? That’s right — the nonverbals. It’s very hard to censor or hide them. Actors can do it, but even the best actor may sometimes bring you out of the reality of the play or movie because some unintended nonverbal behavior reminds you of the actor rather than the character.

You may have a very important and/or heartfelt message to share, but if the nonverbals don’t support the words being said, the message loses all impact. For example, a former client was the president of a medium-sized university. I was called in to help him improve his communication style. His words and ideas were solid, but his nonverbals needed lots of work. His voice was flat, there was no expression in his face and he never moved his body. As a result, he came across as cold and unfeeling. After just one day together, he found a more pleasant, yet powerful, nonverbal style that was consistent with the ideas he wanted to share.


What are some of your nonverbal issues?

Are you even aware of them? To find out, have someone videotape you when you give a presentation or in conversation. Make a list of things to work on.

Here are some to get you started.

  • Do you use enough vocal variety? — changes in pitch, rate, volume and quality
  • Is your face expressive?
  • Does your voice fall into the back of your throat when you speak? It should stay forward.
  • Do you lean back when talking to someone? Leaning slightly forward indicates that you want to talk to them.
  • Are your gestures strong and appropriate?
  • Do you look in the other person’s eyes when talking to them?
  • Is your handshake firm without being overpowering?
  • Do you use too many disfluencies B “you know,” “uh,” “like,” etc.
  • Do you speak too quickly or too slowly?

Now, we certainly can’t deal with all of these in a short article, but let’s take a few of the more important ones. Please read the article “Your Vocal Image,” for information on voice.


The Handshake

One of the first things we notice about someone we’re meeting is their handshake. It’s usually our first physical contact with them and one of the ways we judge a person’s personality. How’s yours? Is it weak and insipid? It might give people the impression that you’re wishy-washy. Is your handshake so strong that it hurts the other person’s hand? If so, I might get the impression that you’re the type of person who must be in control no matter what the consequences.

Your handshake will be more effective when the web between your thumb and forefinger meets the other person’s. Also, look them in the eye. Without eye contact, you’re sending a signal that you aren’t really happy to meet them no matter what you say or how impressive your handshake.



Fair or not, we are often judged by our appearance; it’s a nonverbal clue used by others to decide if and how they speak to us. Such things as the style of your clothes, how well-groomed you are, what kind of jewelry you wear, whether your shoes are shined, all make an impression on people. You want to dress appropriately for the situation. When in doubt, dress up a bit.

Your walk also tells others about you. We each have a distinctive walk, but it can change depending on our mood.


By they way, your mother was right!

Posture IS important. Not only do you look more confident when you stand up straight, good posture also helps your voice sound stronger.

Be watchful of your own nonverbal behavior and that of others. Be alert for ALL of the nonverbal cues that are sent to you. One action by itself isn’t enough evidence to be able to make a judgment about how a person is feeling or what they’re thinking. However, when you go to visit your boss in her office and although her words are welcoming and pleasant, be aware of her tone of voice, her facial expressions and other body language. If she keeps looking at her watch, glancing at papers on her desk, etc., it might be wise to delay the discussion for another time.



How you say something is 5 times more important than what you say. Make certain that your nonverbals are saying what you want them to.



©2017, Say It Well! Permission is given to reprint this article if the following is included: Reprinted by permission of Dr. Candice M. Coleman. She can be reached at 636-724-3761.