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Can your managers manage their non-verbal communication?

Communication is a fundamental element of the manager’s art. However, while we’re all obsessing over the words we use – what we say and how we say it – we might want to think about the other ways in which we communicate.

Over-quoted research

Albert Mehrabian conducted research at UCLA in 1967 which suggests that words are not only – nor even the most important – part of a spoken communication or message. The three core components of any spoken message are:

  • the words.
  • the way the words are said (e.g. tone/pitch of voice, phrasing, etc.).
  • the body language (e.g. eye contact, facial expression, etc.).

While the actual proportions vary from message to message, situation to situation, the basic principle is that communication consists of three inter-related factors and the person on the receiving end will consider all three. In other words, whether they open their mouths or not, your managers are communicating with their teams and customers.

Why is it important?

One word: consistency. If the words used, the tone in which they are spoken, and the accompanying body language are all congruent, then the message carries more weight, it’s more convincing.

If, on the other hand, congruence is lacking – let’s say a manager is telling their team how exciting a new product is while sitting hunched over and rolling their eyes (an exaggerated example perhaps but it makes the point) – then you risk nobody believing a word you say.

What’s more, you can’t NOT do it. Even if you manage to ‘tone’ it down, keep still and give away nothing, that ‘nothing’ is usually interpreted as you being anything from guarded and cautious (probably true) to hiding something (possibly true). In fact, a lack of non-verbal cues can be interpreted as anything from uninterested, preoccupied or bored to even being irritated or angry.

Luckily, your managers’ non-verbal communication is completely under their control, they just have to be aware of that …

Non-verbal tips

Here are a few points to consider when it comes to body language and the messages you might be sending without intending to:

  • Eyes: Be sure to maintain regular eye contact when conversing or communicating. In a group, don't focus on one person, make eye contact with everyone, one at a time. Good eye contact suggests self-assurance, confidence and interest in the audience.
  • Posture: If sitting, never slump in your seat, it suggests you’re demotivated or uninterested. Keep a straight back and appear fully alert and fully engaged in what you are doing. If standing or walking, try to keep your back straight, stomach in, shoulders back and head up. Don’t exaggerate the stance but do try not to hunch over or slouch. Also avoid, putting your hands in your pockets or the classic defensive folding of the arms (no, you’re not necessarily being defensive, but often ‘folded arms’ is a piece of body language that people think they know how to interpret, so it’s best avoided).
  • Mouth: A smile can show that you are interested, excited, sympathetic, empathetic or concerned. A natural smile can relax your audience and can create a positive environment.
  • Hands: A good handshake shows conviction and can create a strong first impression. There are four elements to a positive handshake:
    1. Make sure to hold the person's hand firmly (but no ‘bone crushing’!).
    2. Shake three times as a maximum.
    3. Ensure you maintain eye contact throughout.
    4. Smile and/or give off a positive vibe.

Put simply, you and your managers are always communicating in some fashion, even if you think you are giving nothing away. So, apply a little thought and caution to the gestures and expressions that go with your words – they can make or break your message.

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