A short article that I wrote recently for Construction Marketer magazine was the inspiration for this FAQ – NVC is one of the core components and most frequent areas of interest in my selling, client development and personal development courses). How can non verbal communication (body language) improve my marketing and personal effectiveness?
Anyone who is interested in marketing is, by definition, is concerned with communication and non verbal communication is often overlooked as one of the most powerful communication tools. Yet NVC also holds the key to how you can present a better impression of yourself and generate a more positive and confident perception amongst your work colleagues, family and friends.
There is a huge amount of research within the psychology domain (social, developmental and cognitive) about non verbal communication and it is a growing area of knowledge and debate. However, care must be taken that your sources are not from the more dubious end of the spectrum of ‘pop psychology’ area.
Some people are concerned that the use of NVC is somehow manipulative and unethical. These fears are unfounded. Mostly because most people use NVC in order to improve communication (by gaining a deeper insight into how other people are feeling – part of their Emotional Intelligence skill set) but also because research has shown that even the most gifted users of NVC are unable to project an untruthful image for very long.
Importance in business life
NVC is an important element of any interaction between two people – whether they are networking, attending a first presentation, pitching for a new contract, negotiating fee levels, undertaking research or trying to build a working relationship. Developing your abilities in NVC can significantly enhance your performance as a salesperson, as a great communicator and as a leader and motivator of teams. NVC skills are valuable to all occupations but particularly those with a high level of people interaction – such as in marketing, human resources and senior management. Increased effectiveness and a positive image at work is something that will benefit your personal life too.
Importance in personal life
In your personal life too, NVC can help significantly. It can help you look more confident in social settings – thus increasing the likelihood of you meeting and getting on with new people. Non verbal communication plays a critical role in the development of new romantic relationships as well. You can often detect a couple by the way in which their body language ‘mirrors’ their partner and by the way their orientation and eye contact is focused. Preening and courting behaviours (e.g. fiddling with your hair, adjusting clothing) are mostly non verbal. It can also help you understand better how your partner, children, friends and family are feeling too – enabling you to avoid or overcome difficulties and focus communication in the right direction.
Importance of non verbal communications
A fraction of the meaning in any interaction is conveyed by the actual words spoken, almost 70% of the meaning is conveyed by non verbal means – whether this is your appearance, the way you speak or your body language. Meharbian’s results indicated that meaning is communicated: 7% by the spoken word, 38% by the tone of your voice and 55% by other non verbal cues. Perhaps this is not so surprising when you learn that the eye has eighteen times more neurons than the ear – we have much greater bandwidth for visual information than for auditory information.
Research shows that those with a lower pitched and louder voice and who speak quickly are perceived more positively than those with a high pitched, softer voice or who speak very slowly. People often assume louder voices convey greater confidence and authority and that speed of speech reflects on intelligence (and nervousness!). Research also shows that some accents are received much more favourably than others (those with soft Scottish accents do well, sadly those from the Midlands or Northern England fare less well). Although it is difficult to change the way you speak, it certainly helps to understand how other people will interpret you. Most people know that Margaret Thatcher underwent voice training in order to bring the pitch of her voice down to a level usually associated with men!
Research also shows that women have a biological advantage in that they are generally much better at reading non verbal communication than men. This may partly be due to their greater peripheral vision or their greater ability to multi-task than men. Yet women suffer from some biological disadvantages too – typically women are shorter than men – and height conveys power and authority. Women typically have softer and higher pitched voices than men. So women may need to develop different abilities in order to overcome these disadvantages. My own research has shown that women in business are often more effective at developing existing client relationships, whereas men are often better at winning new business.
Non verbal communication is hugely dependent on culture. Those from urban areas differ from those from rural areas and different nationalities have significantly different interpretations of gestures. Even the manner in which you may touch (or not!) is culturally dependent. This is often the unrecognised reason why negotiations with people from the Middle or Far East are so much more difficult than those with fellow Europeans. Good examples of key differences are: amount of body space taken, amount of eye contact, nodding and handshaking.
Context and environment
Of course, many gestures may be the result of environmental factors rather than a true reflection of someone’s feelings. Whilst folded arms and a scrunched up body position may indicate defensiveness it may simply be due to the room being very cold. Be aware of environmental factors in your interpretations. It is advisable to consider clusters of gestures rather than focus on an isolated movement. You can also learn a lot about people from the way in which they organise their space (e.g. an office) – does the desk provide a barrier? How much ‘private area’ (e.g. behind a desk) is there? Are guest seats the same as the owners? Do they have photos of themselves with important people or framed certificates on their walls?
Creating a great first impression
It only takes a few seconds for people to form a first impression of you – and this is typically formed primarily by your non verbal signals. More worryingly, evidence suggests that it is highly unlikely that an initial impression is likely to be changed. This means that you should critically review how you look and the impression you create. It may be necessary to ask a friend to help you identify areas for improvement or any inadvertent negative non verbal signals. Social skills training and image consultancy are ways in which help can be obtained with serious problems.
Non verbal communication top tips
To appear confident, adopt an open stance (no crossed arms or crossed legs), take as much body space as you can use arm gestures when you speak and smile (and make sure it is a real smile that reaches your eyes!)
Indicators of deception include increased touching of the mouth and chin area (a remnant of when children cover their mouths when they lie!), a reduced amount of hand and arm gestures and different eye contact to normal. There are significant changes in the words used and manner of speaking when telling lies.
When speaking to a group of people at a party or at a presentation, increase everyone’s sense of involvement by ‘light housing’ – moving your eye contact around all the individuals in turn.
Watch for buying signals during meetings – when people suddenly sit forward or tilt their heads as if to listen more intently. People will also sit forward when they wish to speak and will try to pick up the eye contact “baton” to take over the conversation. Similarly, if people sit back or fold their arms – you have lost their attention and interest.
Whereas glazed eyes, yawning or a head resting on a hand may indicate disinterest, displacement activity (e.g. jiggling coins in a pocket, strumming fingers, pen or foot tapping etc) indicates a suppressed desire to remove yourself from the situation and is a sign of impatience of anxiety.
Head nods, eye movements, smiles and other non verbal signs will indicate that you are paying attention, are interested and wish for the other person to continue speaking.
If someone’s NVC mirrors your own then it is an indication that they feel a degree of rapport with you. You can ‘test’ other people’s feelings by changing your stance or position and see if they follow suit (unconsciously)
Feel more positive about yourself
Your NVC will tell other people how you feel about yourself. If you feel confident then your NVC will communicate “confidence” and if you feel nervous then your NVC will communicate “nervous”. So it is important that you have a high level of self respect and self esteem. Some people use NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) techniques to help them generate more positive feelings which translate into more positive NVC.
The topic of NVC is covered in many other blog posts and also my book on Better Business Relationships One of my favourite academics in NVC is Alex Pentland – particularly his work on “Honest Signals”. Amy Cuddy is another favourite – for example, her video on power poses
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As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.