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How To Improve Your Non-verbal Communication Skills

Written By

Carol Schultz

President & CEO of Vertical Elevation

Briefly Speaking

Find out how to improve non-verbal communication skills and why you need to.
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Non-verbal communication skills include the mastery of body language, facial expressions, appearance, eye contact, hand gestures, and listening. As a non-verbal communicator, you must maintain active control over each of these factors. Otherwise, your audience may get a completely different impression of you than what you want. Non-verbal communication skills are so significant because they sway your audience’s impression of you whether or not you choose to actively control the different factors.

In terms of appearance, different environments call for different dressing styles. For example, in company cultures such as Google, employees walk through the headquarters in flip flops, jeans, t-shirts, and other casual wear. However, if you walk a couple blocks to meet with a venture capitalist, this casual clothing may not be appropriate. Non-verbal communication skills involve deciphering the appropriate dressing style in each environment and dressing accordingly.

To improve control of body language, sit in front of the mirror and tell yourself a story. Pay close attention to what gestures you make with your hands, what facial expressions you make, and whether you keep eye contact with your reflection in the mirror. Evaluate your results and correct yourself where needed. For example, poor eye contact, normally an intimacy or self esteem issue, can be perceived as distrust. Even if you do not mean to communicate a lack of trust, your non-verbal communication will give off this message. Think about how your audience will react to these different aspects of your body language and tweak them to perfection.

Always think of how your audience will react to your non-verbal communication. When you fail to evaluate and actively pay attention to how your non-verbal communication lands in the audience’s world, you lose control of how your audience perceives you. Keep in mind non-verbal actions as simple as handshakes. For example, if you give someone a weak handshake, think of how he or she will perceive this non-verbal communication — most likely, as a lack of confidence.

Listening is one of the most important, often unaddressed factors of non-verbal communication skills. There is a huge difference between listening and hearing: hearing is passive while listening is active. When you merely hear someone, you retain little to no information. For example, if your boss assigns a task to you, and you are not actively listening, you either will not be able to complete the task or will only deliver a skewed version of what your boss wanted. In order to retain important information, you must listen actively or with intention.

Create the correct environment to actively listen. In a day and age where a chaotic environment calls for multitasking, get rid of all obstacles and give the speaker your true undivided attention. Turn off any distractions that will get in the way of actively listening. In meetings and discussions, do not continually check your BlackBerry or iPhone. These external obstacles ruin active listening and often bring about more internal distractions; you wind up thinking about your e-mails and other work instead of concentrating 100% of your efforts on what the speaker is telling you.

If distractions present themselves, and you cannot actively listen, appropriately excuse yourself or ask for clarification. After losing focus, many people will just blow off the speaker and will not acknowledge that they checked out. Instead, it is infinitely more valuable to ask for clarification and to let the speaker know that you were focused on listening to them and got momentarily distracted. If you admit that you checked out and need clarification, the speaker will know that were attempting to listen and, in many cases, will respect you for having the integrity to admit your brief lapse in attention.

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