top of page

Are Your Nonverbals Harming Your Career?

How much of communication do you think is attributed to your body language, tone of voice, and your actual words? Have you ever heard the saying that “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? In fact, communication is based on approximately 7% verbal (what you say), 38% tone of voice, and 55% body language (posture, hand movements, facial expressions, etc.). While these figures have been debated and challenged throughout the years, there is no doubt that body language and tone of voice have a tremendous impact on the message you are communicating to others.

Imagine you are giving your direct report constructive feedback, and when you ask him what he thinks about it, he storms out of the room while yelling in an angry tone, “It’s fine! It’s fine! I’m fine, thank you!” What are you more likely to believe, his actual words, or his tone and behavior? Most people would likely say they believe his nonverbal message over the actual words he used.

Think about the power your nonverbal messages have at work. Among many things, nonverbal messages have the capacity to demonstrate your understanding, how confident you are, and whether you agree or disagree with something. If you haven’t thought about the impact your nonverbals are having at work, you may unknowingly be harming your career. Here are 4 key things to keep in mind to communicate more effectively.

1. Pay Attention to Your Body and Face

In addition to words and tone, people also communicate with eye contact, gestures, posture, proximity, and body movements. If you are congratulating someone for a job well done, yet: you have a frown on your face, you are looking down, and your arms are crossed; what message do you think the person is getting? Effective communicators ensure that the words they say match their body language. If you want people to believe what you are saying, make sure that your body and face are conveying the same message as the words you are speaking!

2. Appropriate Tone

Volume, intensity, and your emphasis on words can impact how others receive your messages. Just like with body language, choosing the appropriate tone when communicating with others is essential. You want to make sure that the tone of voice you are using matches the meaning you want to convey. For example, if you are trying to calm down a stressed out co-worker your tone should be soft and soothing, not shrill and loud. Don’t let YOUR emotions drive the conversation! If you aren’t sure how you are coming across, ask other trusted co-workers for feedback.

3. Respond to Others’ Body Language

When communicating with others, practice listening with your eyes and pay close attention to the nonverbal messages people are sending you. Without words they may be telling you that they are confused, have a question, or don’t agree with your message. By responding appropriately, you are conveying that you are truly engaged in the conversation and that you are sensitive to their needs. These things help build trust and improve relationships both personally and professionally.

4. One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Although we often hear the best ways to communicate with others is by: making consistent eye contact, being assertive, allowing physical distance, giving a firm handshake, etc.; we have to remember how important it is to consider cultural context. Some situations may require less formal behaviors that could likely be interpreted differently in another setting. In addition, there are significant differences between cultures in what is deemed appropriate when communicating. For example, in some cultures it may be perceived as cold to have too much physical distance when speaking to one another. In other cultures, making consistent eye contact can perceived as rude and aggressive. It’s important to check whether your body language interpretations are accurate. You can do this by asking others and getting to know the culture and people better.


Our nonverbal messages play a bigger role in communication than most of us think. When engaging with others, make sure the words you are speaking match what you are saying with your body and tone. Also, don’t forget to listen with your eyes and respond accordingly. Doing so will not only improve the outcome of your conversations, but help improve your interactions with others.

When communicating with others, ask yourself:

  • What are my hands doing?

  • What message is my face sending?

  • Where am I looking?

  • What is my tone saying?

  • What is the cultural context that I am in?

  • What messages is the other person sending me?

2 views0 comments


bottom of page