Dr. Albert Mehrabian, in his famous body language studies at UCLA, found that only about 7% of the emotional meaning in a message is composed of the actual words we use. About 38% is communicated through the tone of our voice. About 55% comes through our nonverbal communication, which includes facial expression, gestures, and posture. This surprising statistic should remind us that others believe the visual information that we make available to them before they believe the actual content of the words we use. Even more surprising is that all of us believe what we think we see before we believe what the communicator intended to project.
Nonverbal language is a vital part of the communication process. Body language that is consistent and congruent with your verbal message builds trust and rapport. On the other hand, distracting gestures and unconscious movement get in the way of the receiver hearing the words and meaning of the verbal statement. Even the most carefully put together message will be negated if the speaker’s body language and words are incongruent.
We all use nonverbal communication unconsciously all the time. But as an intentional, conscious skill, it is the one of the most underrated of all business skills. If used to a proactive level, it can be a tremendous source of personal power and strength. According to Bixler and Dugan, there are three steps to projecting energy, confidence, and power.
- Understand the components of your most effective nonverbal communication.
- Break the components down and practice consistent and natural execution. For most people, it begins with eye contact.
- Adapt the behaviors to your style. It’s got to feel genuine to you before it looks that way to others.
Let’s face it; you only have 60 seconds to make a positive first impression. Nonverbal cues can substitute for, emphasize, or support the verbal message we deliver. Consequently, nonverbal communication strongly influences the way we are perceived. The type of appropriate nonverbal communication depends on the situation, environment, and the audience at any given time. You can have a great hand shake, but if you don’t couple it with direct eye contact, you won’t be received as confident. If you don’t enter a room with energy and presence, no one will notice you making eye contact. Heightened awareness, experience, and practice with nonverbal communication will give you added presence in business.
I hope these suggestions will help you whether you are attending interviews, just started your career, or have been working for many years.