This short video (11 minutes) introduces Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) – the basics.

(Video script)

Hi I’m Kim Tasso

There’s scientific evidence that it’s not so much what you say as how you say it. Today we are taking a quick look at Non-Verbal Communication. It’s like a secret language you can use to help you understand how other people are feeling – so you increase your empathy and your ability to respond better to them. You can also learn when what is said and how it is said is incongruent. And NVC can help you convey your energy, personality and messages better.

In today’s short video (13 minutes) I shall attempt some acting for you to demonstrate some of the more popular ideas around NVC – Non-Verbal Communications. Some people call it body language – although it’s more than just movement as you will see. In NLP  it suggests that you subtly mirror and match the behaviour of people to create rapport – as it is what we do naturally when we are on the same wave length. And of course – we are struggling in our virtual meetings at present because we miss a lot of NVC – especially micro-expressions – so communication is much more difficult.

The importance of NVC

There’s a famous piece of research that only around 7% of your meaning is conveyed with the words you speak – and 38% by how you sound and 55% by how you look and your posture and gestures. I say this is the dance (movement) and music (sound) is more important than the lyrics!

Of course, you must be careful of how you interpret NVC you observe. For example, arms hugged across you could indicate insecurity and resistance – or it could be that the environment is very cold! There are cultural differences too – a nod is agreement in many cultures, but a side-to-side movement applies in other cultures. So you must be aware of the environment and cultural context – and watch for clusters of gestures.

There are nine types of non-verbal communication:

  1. Facial expressions (see my angry friend)
  2. Gestures (e.g. thumbs up)
  3. Paralinguistics (sounds like “ooh” and “aah”)
  4. Body language/posture (kinesics)
  5. Proxemics (that’s about your body space)
  6. Eye gaze
  7. Haptics (touch – I’m still so sad that Covid stopped handshakes which is the only time we are permitted to touch in business situations)
  8. Appearance (if you watch my other videos you’ll see that my appearance today is rather different)
  9. Artifacts

And there are five purposes of NVC: Repetition, Contradiction, Substitution, Complementing and Accenting.

The most recent research from Alexander Pentland at MIT in the United States who calls it “honest signals” proves that:

  • People ARE dramatically influenced by non verbal signals
  • There’s activity in our brains from NVC. Our mirror neuron system is activated when people mimic gestures and it’s correlated with feelings of trust and empathy
  • Consistency in tone or motion tells you who really knows what they’re doing (people perceive an expert)
  • When pitching, you can estimate ratings purely by tone of voice
  • You can measure effectiveness of leaders without knowing what they say
  • You can predict a leader’s success at certain tasks

Use your voice

So your voice is really important. The volume you speak at conveys confidence. Think how you respond to people who speak loudly or quietly.

Pace is important – If you speak too quickly you may be perceived as being nervous.

A lower pitch conveys authority. It’s said that Margaret Thatcher did voice coaching to make her voice deeper and more authoritative.

Pauses add dramatic effect and allow people to think or respond.

And we react differently to accents. So – on voice – remember projection, pitch, pace, pauses, passion, perception, personality and personal commitment

Sitting down at meetings

So let’s switch from what we hear to what we see.

 One of the most important aspects of NVC is eye contact – Look directly at people and light-housing the room to include everyone. This is particularly hard when working at a screen and the webcam is in a different place to the display.

When face-to-face we pass the baton to talk – a cue – with our eye contact.

An eye brow raise – in extreme is a sign of surprise. But a gentler version is a sign of recognition – networkers will be familiar with that one when moving around a room

SMILE – In most cultures it’s a sign of welcome and friendly. And people are likely to smile back.

Now let’s think about proxemics – How much space do you take up?

Scrunched up small (closed) or expansive taking up a lot of space? Taking a lot of space is territorial and perceived as a sign of power and dominance. I talked about Amy Cuddy’s power poses – my favourite of which is Wonder Woman – on my video about appearing confident.

Do you prefer having a desk or table in front of you? Which may create a barrier. Beware too of sitting in a chair that is higher than others – this might be construed as dominating behaviour.

Is your posture open or closed? When closed we see a couple of things – a barrier and some auto-contact. Folded arms is often a sign of disinterest or discomfort. Open is more friendly and relaxed.

Are you disinterested and leaning back – or really engaged and leaning forward. Remember what teenagers do?

How much energy do you have with your gestures – are you showing your enthusiasm and energy?

Obviously, some cultures are more expressive with gestures than others. I find it hard in some Eastern cultures as they value stillness and there are no gestures! This can cause us some issues as research shows that in Western cultures we make less gestures when we are lying! It’s like our body language can’t lie!

And there are a few things to avoid – don’t touch your face (it’s associated with deceitful behaviour). And any sort of fiddling or jiggling behaviour denotes discomfort – perhaps a desire to get away. Some consider it a displacement activity. Fiddling with your hair is considered preening behaviour. Although a chin rest is interpreted as a signal that someone is thinking.

And don’t point! It’s rude and aggressive. As we can see in this famous Kitchener army recruitment sign.

I should mention steepling – thought to be a sign of superiority – apex focuses on eye – passing the baton of speaking. I can do something similar with a pen or my glasses

Standing up is similar to when seated – are we being a wallflower staying close to the edge and taking little space at the end of the room? Or are we taking a lot of space? The way you stand conveys confidence. And posture too – legs astride – dominating the space around us. It’s territorial. There was some press coverage recently about politicians who did this too obviously!

And the amount of physical space around us differs for intimate, personal and business relationships. And this varies in different cultures. It’s fun to watch a group of international people networking as they try not to show discomfort when someone with a closer body space encroaches on other’s greater distance requirements.

Thanks for watching and listening to this short video on Non-Verbal Communication

Other articles on Non-Verbal Communication

Active Listening (Video) ( November 2020

Be more confident and convey confidence – top tips ( June 2019

Coaching skills – the importance of active listening – Kim Tasso November 2014

how non verbal communication (body language) improves effectiveness ( August 2002

Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan ( June 2021

Telephone skills workshop – 11 key points (Kim Tasso) July 2021

What are soft skills? And why are they so important? (Video) ( June 2020

There are many short videos relating to communications on the Kim Tasso YouTube channel