While Zoom, Webex and virtual events have dominated meetings in the last couple of years and were a welcome and necessary adaptation to our business lives, they made it more difficult to pick up non-verbal cues that we get from being physically present in a room with people. The transition was made even harder as people were easily distracted by other digital interests or just didn’t turn their camera on.
That left us with almost no way of reading non-verbal cues during meetings – a vital element for effective communication. Many studies have shown that non-verbal behaviors make up a large percentage of our daily interpersonal communication. Most experts agree that 70 to 93 percent of all communication is non-verbal, indicating the importance of the ability to ‘read’ people wholly through their body language, while also listening to their words.
Now that in-person meetings and events are back for most of us, and there is pent-up demand for business travel we identify some of the non-verbal ways we all communicate that are useful to be aware of for your next meeting.
1. Make proper eye contact
Eye contact makes up a huge part of non-verbal communication. Keeping eye contact while communicating is a good way to show others that you’re engaged and attentive while they’re speaking. To practice good eye contact, keep your eyes on the individual’s face while they speak and continue to look at them when you reply, but avoid staring. If you are speaking to a group, try to make eye contact briefly with everyone in the room, even those at the back, rather than focus on just one or two individuals.
However, be aware that in some cultures, lack of eye contact signals disinterest. In others, too much direct eye contact might make people uncomfortable.
2. Be aware of body language
Your posture matters a great deal. Stand or sit up straight and face your audience openly and with attention. If appropriate, move around a bit and use hand gestures to emphasize your points. Avoid crossing your arms and legs, picking your nails or fidgeting. This can all imply you are uncomfortable, not interested or even defensive. Also, respect people’s personal space and remember that different cultures and individuals can have different norms and preferences about proximity and touch.
3. Facial expressions don’t lie
Facial expressions are closely tied to our emotions and easily reveal what we are thinking and feeling. We naturally make all sorts of facial expressions when we interact with others. Consider how much information can be conveyed with a nod, smile or frown. Be aware of your own facial expressions and practice relaxing your facial muscles in front of a mirror to convey an open gaze, and even a smile while you are at it. You will notice it will be easier and more engaging to grab someone’s attention and interest in what you are saying.
4. Play with your tone of voice
Your vocal tone is another important form of non-verbal communication. It can convey emotion and feelings, such as happiness, sadness, anger and boredom. When you speak, pay attention to your tone and be conscious how it affects other people as it can be an effective way to amplify your message. If you are excited and passionate about what you’re speaking about and reflect that in your tone of voice, it will encourage others to share your enthusiasm and stay engaged. We’ve all witnessed speakers whose tone is on a single level. Did you find your mind wandering? Did you lose interest in what they were saying? Try not to be that person. Avoid speaking too fast or too slow and make sure you articulate well.
5. Pay attention to discrepancies in behavior
If someone’s words don’t match their non-verbal expressions or actions or if a team member says they’re excited to work on a new project but is staring at the ground or frowning, they might not be as happy as they say. Pick up these signals and dig deeper to find out the problem and how you can support.
6. When in doubt, ask
One of the biggest risks of decoding non-verbal communication is wrongly interpreting the signs. When you are confused or in doubt of someone’s non-verbal cues, ask for clarification. This way you prevent a misunderstanding. And by inquiring further into people’s message and intent, you might gain a better understanding of what they’re really trying to say.
7. Practice makes perfect
Some people might have a natural talent for picking up non-verbal cues. If you are not one of them, don’t worry. You can improve your skills by practicing. Watching how other people communicate non-verbally is a good way to learn what works and what doesn’t. Also consider interacting with friends and family and asking them for feedback on your non-verbal communication. Practicing these skills allows you to become more familiar with how you personally express yourself.