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Simon De Cintra

Act Naturally

Presentation Coach & Author

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Soft skills: Why playing it safe with non-verbal communication is a bad idea in business


Before we even open our mouths to speak, others are forming opinions of us based on our non-verbal communication. Despite this, many leaders are still getting it wrong when it comes to the signals they are giving out to their teams.

Non-verbal communication, for example your body language, facial expressions and posture, can all influence how successful you are in communication, especially in the world of business. 

If you’re trying to play a communication game and not give anything away in your non-verbal communication, you should be aware that in almost every case this is not the impression others will actually interpret from your actions. 

Here, we will look at why playing it safe with non-verbal communication is likely to go wrong in practice and the methods you need to try to improve the way you communicate. 

Why does playing it safe go wrong?

At the beginning of any form of face-to-face communication, the first thing other people look for, before the speaker even opens their mouth, is the signals that build up (i.e. their non-verbal communication), to establish whether they are truly present in the room. It is no more complex than that. 

You need to give a good impression when communicating and the way you carry yourself, the facial expressions you use, your gestures and your paralinguistics such as your tone of voice, will all influence the impression you give off considerably. 

Therefore, if you decide to take the safe option and play down all of these aspects of non-verbal communication, this often gives the recipient a feeling that you are bored, disinterested, preoccupied or in a hurry. 

These feelings can escalate and eventually cause bad relationships to develop with your colleagues that can be hard to come back from.

How to improve and manage non-verbal communication

1. Practice in a safe environment first

Practicing in a safe environment prior to communicating will help you discover what does and does not work. This method will be incredibly beneficial in monitoring your facial expressions and body language. 

Practice speaking in front of a trusted colleague or a family member, as this will help identify the areas you need to improve on. 

Using this technique will also enables you to receive feedback from the person observing you on what effect your non-verbal communication has had on them. They can also give you constructive criticism on how to improve on this. 

Attempting to dial down your non-verbal communication can often backfire and be detrimental to your working relationships.

Once you have received this feedback you can begin practicing these new techniques in this safe environment ready for when you need to deliver this in reality to your audience. 

Practice can work wonders when it comes to making sure these changes to your non-verbal communication are ingrained.

2.    Remember the importance of eye contact

People need to feel your attention is on them when you are communicating, hence why consistent eye contact is important. 

Steady eye contact with the person you are conversing with is highly recommended. If you become distracted by your surroundings and your eyes start dotting around the room, it won’t deliver a good impression, as they might wrongly assume you’re not interested in what they have to say.

3.    Adapt your tone to the situation 

Every situation requires a different tone. In my experience of training clients to unlock their ‘business voice’, many have struggled to adapt their tone to different situations. 

Making a deliberate effort to change your tone to the situation’s requirements will dramatically increase the chances of getting what you want from the person involved. 

If it is a sensitive subject for the person you’re speaking to for example, you will be better off adopting a compassionate and softer tone.

Conversely, if they need pushing along to achieve results, a sterner, no-nonsense tone may be more appropriate to help force the individual to take action and deliver results.

4.    Address your posture 

Confidence is key in business and your posture has a massive part to play in this. 

When you want to portray confidence in business meetings or whilst communicating with customers, your posture must reflect this. 

A strong stance with your legs a reasonable width apart and with your head up will give off an air of confidence. Avoid slouching, crossing your arms or bowing your head. 

5.    Do not play it safe

Trying to act neutral is a dangerous game in business. When trying to give absolutely nothing away in communication, many people do end up giving off a negative impression. 

Of course you should not overplay your emotions when in a professional setting, but it’s also inadvisable to try and completely hide all your emotions as you could come across as either bored, arrogant or unconfident.

Finally, remember that attempting to dial down your non-verbal communication can often backfire and be detrimental to your working relationships. Being mindful of the points above will help prevent you from making this common communication mistake. 

Interested in this topic? Read Want to seal that deal? Brush up on your body language.

Author Profile Picture
Simon De Cintra

Presentation Coach & Author

Read more from Simon De Cintra

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