Leadership Techniques: How is Your Nonverbal Communication?

In business, both verbal and nonverbal communication are important.  Many people are visual learners and in fact focus on what they see when spoken to.  If part of your leadership techniques include focus on your nonverbal communications you are on the right track.


Given the role that nonverbals play in communicating, there is a real need for self-awareness. To facilitate understanding and management of each parts of communication, it is useful to look at the three categories: Paralanguage, Kinesics, and Proxemics.

Paralanguage is the vocal or tonal quality and pitch as well as the speed and emphasis of our words. It plays a role in face-to-face communication and in telecommunication. Paralanguage is the “how” of our speaking and can be broken down into several areas:

  • Increasing loudness or softness and high or low pitch can designate a question or convey emotion.
  • Timing variation and changes in pitch can provide emphasize or convey meaning.
  • Vocal constriction versus openness can imply tension or emotion.
  • Drawling or clipping is evident in various accents, where someone either drags out certain syllables or skips letters entirely.
  • Emotion reflects how the speaker’s feelings affects the delivery. Crying versus laughing while speaking will almost always convey a different meaning.[i]


Kinesics is the study of body language. Whether speakers are aware of it or not, their bodies communicate messages. The ability both to manage these messages as a speaker as well as to understand them as a listener is invaluable in business. Effective speaking engages the emotions of the audience, and the use of body language is a powerful aspect of that communication.

A story told about President Franklin D. Roosevelt demonstrates his belief in nonverbal communication. One evening he decided to have some fun while greeting people. Many of them said, “Good evening, Mr. President, and how are you?” to which he responded with a warm smile, “I’m fine, thank you, I murdered my mother-in-law.” Not one person reacted to his comment. It is possible that no one even heard it because his body language was so contradictory to his statement. Because body language is typically unconscious, it is believed to be the most genuine form of communication.

Because body language is based on feelings, it is valuable to read the recipient’s body language when communicating. More important, it is possible to leverage the use of body language as well as other nonverbals to enhance the delivery of a message. A list of the most common body actions that can lead to intended or unintended impressions follows.

  • Erect posture. Power, confidence, control
  • Two people sitting in similar positions. Harmony, agreement
  • Leaning forward. Interest in other, confidence
  • Open hands. Sincerity, openness
  • Crossed arms.  Defense, closed
  • Head tilting toward the speaker. Agreement or interest
  • Smile. Pleasure, compassion, trust, desire for connection[ii]

There are certainly exceptions to this list, particularly when considering other cultures. It is best to consider body language in combination with cultural behaviors before drawing conclusions.

The use of the hands to guide the eyes is one of the most powerful body language techniques to convey or guide attention.


Proxemics  relates to the space in which we operate and its effect on our level of comfort. [iii] There are two general aspects to proxemics:

1.       Physical territory, such as the orientation or characteristics of furniture or surroundings, can have an effect on our comfort. For example, a desk facing a window versus a dingy wall can affect a worker’s mood. Or a presentation in a poorly lit room might change the experience of the audience.

2.       Personal territory reflects our comfort level in proximity to others. Depending on the level of intimacy, there are basic ranges for each level.

a. Public space. The distance maintained between an audience and a speaker is generally 12 to 25 feet..
b. Social space. The distance between business associates in communication or strangers in public settings is 4 to 10 feet.
c. Personal space. The distance between close friends or family members, or between strangers waiting in line, is 2 to 4 feet.
Cultural differences can lead to variations in these distances. Becoming familiar and respecting these cultural differences will improve cross-cultural relations and build connection. Distances can also vary by gender, age, and personal preferences. Reading body language and observing reactions are the best way to determine the best distances.

[i]             “What Is Paralanguage?” www.work911.com/communication/nonverbparalanguage.htm.
[ii]             Patricia Ball, “Watch What You Don’t Say,” www.speaking.com/articles_html/PatriciaBall,CSP,CPAE_592.html.
[iii]             Mike Sheppard, “Proxemics,” www.cs.unm.edu/~sheppard/proxemics.htm.

Business Success: Benefits of Communication

Innovation occurs for many reasons, including greed, ambition, conviction, happenstance, acts of nature, mistakes, and desperation. But one force above all seems to facilitate the process. The easier it is to communicate, the faster change happens.

—James Burke, Connectionsbusiness_communications_

Many leaders have the notion that communication is a “soft” issue, having very little effect on profit. The enormity of communicating in today’s interconnected economy can be overwhelming, given the number of different languages, technologies, industries, and markets across the globe

Consider the experience of a measurement instrument company that hired a consulting company to improve its process of getting new products to market. The research began with a meeting of about 40 senior engineers.

The meeting was designed to gather information from the engineers on what they considered to be the main barriers to getting their products to market. They divided themselves into small groups and began to create lists. Then, as a group, they labeled the barriers as either technical or social.

After tallying the chart scores, they determined that 81 percent of their barriers were social. One manager said,“We’re always trying to take waster out of our technical processes, but in 22 years I’ve been here, we have never even looked at taking waster out of our interactions with people.”

The engineers worked on their communication skills and cut their development cycle in half. The project’s sponsor commented that if they had made these changes five years earlier, they would have saved $50 million.

There are numerous examples of costly failures as a result of poor communication. The Challenger disaster is a tragic example. The banking failures beginning in 2008 can be highly attributed to a lack of information being shared with deserving parties.

Statistics on the success of mergers, acquisitions, and alliances also show that today’s leaders are no better at communicating than they were many years ago. Studies by some of the top accounting firms show that most mergers and acquisitions fail. The average statistics are:
• 60 percent of merged companies lose value after five years.
• 30 percent have no increase in value.
• 10 percent are successful at increasing value.

This is after billions have been spent on Business Intelligence software and hardware systems to connect, integrate, disseminate, and more.

While the risk of this problem is higher in companies involved in mergers and acquisitions, there are similar challenges within more stable organizations. Consider interdepartmental conversations such as the exchange of information, needs, and ideas between information technology (IT) and marketing. Some people experience the other department as speaking a different language.

These chasms of understanding exist between many departments with specialized workers whose thinking patterns may be different. Similarly, important conversations take place with entities outside the organization, such as vendors, suppliers, investors, auditors, and authorities. The style of communication may vary among all these interested parties.

Mickey Connolly and Richard Rianoshek, in The Communication Catalyst, offer a three-part conversational model that is useful for enhancing important activities such as “teamwork, planning, accountability, and learning”:

1. Align. Conversation facilitates the sense of shared purpose, enhances creativity, and promotes smart planning.

2. Act. Conversation clarifies accountabilities and initiates action.

3. Adjust. Conversations evaluate performance and acknowledge successes or launch corrective action.

When these three related elements are effective, work is meaningful, satisfying, and fast. We infuse work with meaning, galvanize teams, and inflame loyalty among customers, employees, and investors. When these elements are ineffective, we decelerate our high-speed ambitions. We render work meaningless, destroy teamwork, and inflame discontent among customers, employees and investors.

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Business Success Skills: High Quality Relationships

High-quality relationships are the lifeblood of an organization that seeks to leverage complexity and emergent knowledge. Once a set of solid communication practices are in place, relationships begin to form. To use these relationships effectively, however, the dissemination of crucial information, such as the goals of the business and the knowledge needed to attain those goals, is essential. As relationships form through effective communication practices, a culture of mutual respect will emerge.business_relationship

Shared Goals

Traditionally, goals are shared within functional teams. The overall goals of the organization, however, are less well known. In an organization with a highly interdependent framework, each member of the organization must focus on the overall goal. Since the framework is designed to allow structure and process to emerge, the shared goal of the organization is the unifying force that empowers that emergence.

Shared Knowledge

Sharing knowledge goes hand in hand with shared goals for any organization using a highly interdependent framework. Knowledge shared between teams from different functional backgrounds creates connections that foster cross-functional support while reducing competition and conflict.

Mutual Respect

Highly interdependent organizations thrive on mutual respect. Effective communication practices as well as shared knowledge and goals go a long way to create a culture of mutual respect. Within a respectful dialogue, differences in opinions unleash energy and creativity. Problems are minimized when the involved parties feel respected. This behavior is best learned by watching those in positions of power.

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Business Success: High Quality Communications

High-quality communication comes in many forms, all of which play an important role.business leadership

Frequent Communication

Effective communication is necessary to exchange information in highly interdependent organizations. Frequent communications are important for building familiarity and trust, which leads to increased sensitivity and responsiveness.

Timely Communication

Organizations that thrive on turning information into knowledge understand that timing is everything. As speed to respond has grown in importance, delays can lead to waste and increased costs. Timely communication facilitates the smooth transition of information in highly interdependent organizations.

Accurate Communication

In an information-driven economy, accurate communication is essential. However, as an integral part of relational coordination, accuracy often suffers when organizations become more complex and greater speed is encouraged. Business Intelligence systems provide a solid framework to ensure accuracy.

Problem-Solving Communication

Highly interdependent organizational processes can run flawlessly until a problem arises. However, when members of these complex organizations face problems and are not skilled in dealing with them, conflict often arises, leading to blame and loss of communication. Organizations that focus on developing communication skills will benefit from the increased contacts and depth of connection.

Come back for more business intelligence and change management focused blogs by The OLIVIAGroup! Feel free to comment with questions, insights, or additions to this post. To receive alerts when the next blog is published, click on the RSS feed to subscribe.
Visit www.OLIVIAGroup.com to learn more about Business Intelligence and hiring Olivia Parr Rud for your next conference!

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