Nonverbal communication in the workplace: a key skill for managers

Written by: Erika Khanna | Edited by: Alison Robins | Illustrated by: Officevibe team
Published on April 17, 2018 | Reading time: 7m

Being an impactful manager, and a clear communicator goes hand in hand. A major proponent to effective communication extends beyond what managers say to how they say it. The inadvertent cues we give off with our body language affect how our messages are received by our audience, which can in turn affect relationships. This is referred to as nonverbal communication in the workplace.

Simply put: nonverbal communication is a crucial communication element for managers and teams to consider.

Focusing on nonverbal communication in the workplace builds strong teams that learn to understand each other beyond verbal messaging. 

This means, while your team is listening to the words you’re saying, nonverbal cues contribute to how your message is received and vice versa. The tricky part is unpacking how you and your team communicate nonverbally and what type of dynamic ensues as a result. 

That’s why we’re diving into how managers can adopt nonverbal communication tips that they can distill to their team.

Why nonverbal communication in the workplace is important

Nonverbal communication in the workplace means being mindful of what we say just as much as how we say it. Our body gives off nonverbal signals which may tell a different story. So, what does that mean? What we communicate extends beyond the spoken word. 

Our body language tells us a lot about ourselves, and indicates levels of engagement, motivation, and support within our team. There are a myriad of cues that indicate whether a dynamic is positive or needs improvement. Note that these can change, depending on the environment we find ourselves in (remote or in-person).

These can include:

  • Gestures and mannerisms: They help us play out thoughts and they’re important to keep in mind as they can be distracting or give off false impressions.
  • Eye contact: Use eye contact to establish connections with people and emphasize that you’re listening.
  • Tone of voice: Our tone is associated with different emotions such as anger, fear, excitement, joy, etc. 
  • Posture: The way we hold ourselves gives off cues a to whether we are engaged in the conversation.
  • Facial expressions: The expressions on our faces in a conversation can say how we feel before we have the chance to speak.

6 nonverbal communication tips for managers and teams:

There are several ways managers and teams can improve their nonverbal communication cues. We’ve listed the most prevalent ones below which are also applicable for remote work.

1. Be mindful of posture and gestures

When we indicate that we’re motivated, ready to learn and eager to listen, our body language expresses this for us. We tend to sit up straight, lean into a conversation (or towards your screen if you’re working remotely). Positive body language means your posture is open and ready to receive information. It’s a dance between listening and contributing to the conversation. Your posture and gestures encourage others to share their insight while giving you the ability to contribute as well. 

Tip: Demonstrate active listening and engagement by keeping your shoulders back, and sitting up tall. If you’re not comfortable, call it out: Let your team know that you’re paying attention despite external circumstances. 

2. Establish eye contact

Establishing eye contact may sound like a no brainer, yet it’s something all managers may struggle with. First, being a new manager may incite a level of imposter syndrome making it difficult to assert your presence or make a team member feel supported by an authority figure. A key way to make sure your team knows that you’re present during meetings is to establish and maintain eye contact. Secondly, as an established manager, be sure to maintain eye contact further demonstrating you’re focused and present.

Tip: Look directly into the camera if you’re working remotely and mute alerts during meetings. If you’re expecting an important or urgent call, let your team know that this is the reason your alerts are active.

3. Adopt an appropriate tone

Have you ever answered a question in a way that made it sound as though you were upset, but you weren’t? These awkward situations make us human, and they’re important to take note of. Tone of voice indicates the level of stress of any given situation as well as emotions about circumstances. When you learn to manage your tone with your team, you set the bar for the type of conversations you’ll have. Certain intonations are helpful for some situations while others may not be conducive to productivity.

Tip: Adapt your tone of voice to the situation you find yourself in. If a member of your team is having a personal crisis, your tone will set the bar for them to confide in you, further solidifying trust. Contrarily, if a team hasn’t met their objectives, balance your tone to be both confident and managerial.

4. Look out for exaggerated sighs

The current workplace landscape has changed significantly over the course of the last year. These massive global changes have increased stress levels which can often surface during workplace conversations. That’s why it’s important to note how sighing during an important announcement might deliver the wrong message to your team. 

Sighs may also be a sign of stress, fatigue, or disinterest. On the other hand, gasps can signal stress, anger or frustration.

Tip: Keep a keen eye out for these subtle reactions. Notice if you or your employees communicate with sighs or gasps during meetings. If this is a frequent part of daily interactions, schedule 1-on-1 time to talk about it. Your employees value having their voices heard, they may simply not know how to express it.

5. Maintain receptivity and openness

When it comes to receiving information, our body language says a lot about us. Whether we’re sitting with our arms and legs crossed, or leaning back in our chair, away from the person who’s speaking. On the surface these mannerisms might have to do with circumstantial aspects. For example, we tend to cross our arms if the temperature of a room is cold, or lean back to feel comfortable. Yet, these are also indicators as to whether or not people are paying mindful attention, are upset, or even uninterested in a topic. 

Tip: Keep your body language open by uncrossing your arms, and leaning slightly forward. Make sure your team knows you’re actively listening with open and receptive body language

6. Be mindful of facial expressions

How our face changes while we speak might be telling a story that differs from the one we are verbally communicating. Being mindful of our expressions, helps. This helps managers stay present and adapt facial expressions in alignment with the areas of discussion. As a result, it establishes cohesiveness, and understanding to help others understand our key messages.

Tip: When employees share news that may be shocking or stressful, remember that your facial expressions will impact the way people feel. If a topic sounds unclear, before grimacing or reacting quickly, take the time to pause and ask thoughtful questions to learn more.

Each of these points are helpful when conducting important conversations with your team. They contribute to the way we build connections with each other, especially during a time where we may feel disconnected or siloed. Officevibe is a software that helps managers conduct 1-on-1’s where you can apply each point listed above. We help you get prepared and take action with humility and authenticity, setting you and your team up for success.

Officevibe helps managers facilitate productive 1-on-1 conversations
Officevibe helps managers facilitate productive 1-on-1 conversations

How to build effective teams based on nonverbal communication

Employees learn from their managers, which is why it’s important to lead by example when it comes to nonverbal communication style and techniques. 

When you notice how members of your team are not displaying engaged or positive body language, schedule some 1-on-1 time to talk about it.

Learning about your team’s nonverbal cues will shed light on other factors that may not be prevalent during meetings. These can be cultural, environmental and personal concerns contributing to misconstrued perceptions. Knowing this helps managers prevent unnecessary conflicts within the team. It’s especially important for remote teams since our environments and circumstances differ greatly. 

At the end of the day, everyone is different and the way they communicate tells their story differently. Being mindful of our own nonverbal communication habits helps us be more aware of others. When managers understand their employees, they can identify their needs and build a better relationships with their team.