Nonverbal Communications that Work – 1

nonverbal communicationsNonverbal communications, such as facial expressions, voice tone, handshakes, gestures, appearance, and posture, are all essential aspects of building the relationship with your customers or audiences. Clear and effective communication is necessary during presentations, whether for boardrooms full of executives, auditoriums at conferences, or classrooms full of students. It is further critical during sales calls. When we attempt to communicate with another person, we use both verbal and nonverbal communications. Nonverbal messages are “messages without words” or “silent messages.”


In their best-selling book, “The Definitive Book of Body Language,” researchers Allan and Barbara Pease found that 83 percent of communication is nonverbal communications. Another research indicates that when two people communicate, nonverbal messages convey much more impact than verbal messages. In fact, 93 percent of retained messages are nonverbal communications, according to Gerald L. Manning, Barry L. Reece, and Michael Ahearne in their book, “Selling Today.” Words play a surprisingly small part of the communication process. Verbal information is vital, but how we present that information can determine how much an audience remembers. Every spoken message has a vocal element, coming not from what we say but from how we say it.

nonverbal communications

As we attempt to read nonverbal communications, it is important to remember that no one signal carries much meaning. If the person you meet for the first time displays a weak grip during the handshake, don’t let this one sign shape your first impression. Such factors as posture, eye contact, gestures, clothing, and facial expressions must all be regarded together.


Nonverbal communications can reinforce or contradict the spoken word. When your verbal message and body language are consistent, they tend to give others the impression that you can be trusted and that what you say reflects what you truly believe. When there is a discrepancy between your verbal and nonverbal messages, you are less apt to be trusted.


The most common and essential nonverbal communications that work in various situations are the following:

  1. Entrance and Carriage
  2. Shaking Hands
  3. Facial Expressions
  4. Eye contact
  5. Voice
  6. Appearance


In this post, I will briefly and merely discuss the first three nonverbal communications: (1) Entrance and Carriage, (2) Shaking Hands, and (3) Facial Expressions. In a subsequent post: Nonverbal Communications that Work – 2 I will discuss the remaining three: (4) Eye Contact, (5) Voice, and (6) Appearance.


Three Nonverbal Communications that Work

1. Entrance and Carriage

This is mostly forgotten. The first impression we make is very important, right?. The moment a person walks into a client’s office, a meeting room, or a class, people begin making judgments. Susan Bixler, author of “The New Professional Image” and “Professional Presence,” makes this comment:


“All of us make entrances throughout our business day as we enter offices, conference rooms, or meeting halls. And every time we do, someone is watching us, appraising us, sizing us up, and gauging our appearance, even our intelligence, often within the space of a few seconds.”


Bixler says that the key to making a triumphant entrance is merely believing — and projecting — that you have a reason to be there and have something valuable to offer the client or audience.


You can communicate confidence with a strong stride, a good posture, and a friendly smile. A confident manner transmits to the client or audience the message,


“This meeting will be beneficial to you.” Bixler says.


2. Shaking Hands

Do not underestimate this! An inadequate handshake is like dandruff: No one mentions it, but everyone notices it. Today, the handshake is an essential symbol of respect and, in most business settings, it is the proper greeting. For your nonverbal communications to work, you need to have an effective handshake.


The handshake can communicate warmth, genuine concern for the other person, and an image of strength. It also can communicate aloofness, indifference, and weakness to them. The message we communicate with a handshake is determined by a combination of these five factors:


  1. Eye contact during the handshake. Eyes transmit more information than any other part of the body, so maintain eye contact throughout the handshaking process and display a pleasant smile.
  2. The degree of firmness. Generally speaking, a firm handshake communicates a caring attitude, while a weak grip (the dead-fish handshake) communicates indifference.
  3. The depth of interlock. A full, deep grip communicates friendship to the other person. But do not overdo it.
  4. Duration of grip. There are no specific guidelines to tell us what the ideal duration of a grip should be. However, by extending (only a little bit) the duration of the handshake we can often communicate a greater degree of interest and concern for the other person. Do not pump up and down more than once or twice.
  5. The degree of dryness of the hands. A moist palm not only is uncomfortable to handle but also can communicate the impression that you are quite nervous. Some people have a physiological problem that causes clammy hands and should keep a handkerchief within reach to remove excess moisture.


The best time to present your name is when you extend your hand. When you introduce yourself, state your name clearly and then listen carefully to be certain you hear the customer’s name. To ensure that you remember the customer’s name, repeat it. In some cases, you need to check to be sure you are pronouncing it properly.


3. Facial Expressions

If you want to identify the inner feelings of another person, watch their facial expressions closely. They are the strongest nonverbal communications. The face is a remarkable communicator, capable of accurately signaling emotions in a split second and capable of concealing emotions equally well. We can often determine whether the customer’s face is registering surprise, pleasure, or skepticism.


It is worth noting that the smile is the most recognized and universal facial signal in the world. It can have a great deal of influence on others. George Rotter, professor of psychology at Montclair University, says:


“Smiles are an enormous controller of how people perceive you. People tend to trust a smiling face. Get in the habit of offering a sincere smile each time you meet with a prospect.”


As the customer or other person speaks, make enough eye contact to indicate that you are listening and nod occasionally to indicate agreement or interest. However, inadequate or prolonged eye contact can send the wrong message. Therefore, avoid looking across the room or at papers, because the customer will assume you’re not listening. In addition, a prolonged, direct stare can be threatening, so take brief glances.


Here are just three examples of common facial expressions that their meanings:


nonverbal communications
Source: Manning et al, Selling Today, 12th ed., Pearson Education


So those were three of the six effective nonverbal communications that work: (1) Entrance and Carriage, (2) Shaking Hands, and (3) Facial Expressions. So stay tuned for the remaining three: (4) Eye Contact, (5) Voice, and (6) Appearance in the coming post: “Nonverbal Communications that Work – 2.”


Surely, this topic is very rich and cannot be covered in just two posts. Nevertheless, I tried to introduce it and show you how nonverbal communications are crucial for delivering a clear message to your audience, clients, or any people you communicate with. And if you understand nonverbal communications, you can understand what and how people are conveying.


If you enjoy this article please like or share. All your comments are also welcome. You can always subscribe to my newsletter here to receive regular updates on interesting posts and articles.


Sources: (1) “The Definitive Book of Body Language,” Allan and Barbara Pease, (2) “Selling Today,” Gerald L. Manning, Barry L. Reece, and Michael Ahearne

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