What’s Your Body Saying?

manager talking with 2 employees

“Actions speak louder than words.”

How many of us have heard this proverb? It’s true. According to Albert Mehrabian’s Communication Model, 55% of communication consists of body language. If you add Mehrabian’s 38% for intonation (our tone of voice) to this, you’re left with only 7% – the words.

Each time I facilitate and demonstrate these basic communication skills, many participants are surprised by these statistics. I start with the question, “Have any of you had a supervisor that didn’t communicate well? Someone who is either a poor listener or had difficulty communicating their expectations?” Most people raise their hands.

Now the next question: “How did this poor communication impact the ability to do your job?” The responses are many and highly critical.

It’s not what we say, it’s how we say it.

It’s a valuable lesson to learn when leaders are communicating with their employees.

Understanding body language will provide a great advantage in your daily communications. We are constantly communicating, even when we are not speaking.

More than Words

Our impressions of each other are based on more than words. People can have cordial conversations and not like each other. The actions that we take are stronger than our words. For example, a person may dismiss someone using body language and not say anything negative. Like it or not, our body language makes a lasting impression on the people around us.

Our body language specifically focuses on the physical aspects of conversation, not tone, or pitch. It includes the following characteristics:

  • Proximity: The distance between people.
  • Positioning: Position of a body.
  • Facial expression: The eyes are particularly noticed.
  • Touching: This includes objects, people, and themselves.
  • Breathing: The rate of respiration is telling.

Communication, other than the actual words spoken, includes all forms of body language, such as eye contact, body posturing and the position of our arms and hands.

If leaders want to inspire action from their employees, it’s important to have effective body language. If you want to connect with your employees, influence them with a smile, make eye contact and watch your posture. These few tips alone will speak volumes.

Silent Messages

Saying nothing can sometimes send a stronger message than if you did say something. This is particularly true for supervisors, managers, or anyone in a position of authority. These are the “silent” messages that sometimes get inadvertently sent to others.

For example, if you see inappropriate or unproductive behaviours by employees and don’t say or do anything to correct the situation, you are actually saying a great deal. Your lack of communication could be misinterpreted as condoning these behaviours. The complete opposite of your intent.

Leaders must be conscious of the fact that if they don’t say anything when behaviours need to be corrected or complimented, then an unintended message may be sent. Leaders need to be especially careful about these silent messages.