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Nonverbal Communication: Show me what you’re not telling me

Krzysztof Rzepkowski

To argue that it’s worth having conversations, one probably doesn’t need to convince anyone. I discussed with Krzysztof Rzepkowski, the President of the Management Board of Sandler Training Poland, how to communicate to be well-understood, achieve sales and personal goals, and what is more important than words.

What is communication?

The Latin term ‘communicatio’ refers to the flow of information, emotions, and thoughts between participants. This exchange occurs through verbal and nonverbal signs – speech, gestures, images, and texts.

Zbigniew Nęcki, a social psychologist and head of the Negotiation Department at the Faculty of Management and Social Communication at Jagiellonian University, additionally emphasizes the intentionality of this exchange and its purpose. The aim is to improve cooperation or sharing of meanings between partners.

Types of Communication

We distinguish several types of communication:

  • Interpersonal communication involves a conversation between two people (the message’s sender and its recipient). Words, body language, movements (head tilt), gestures (interlocked fingers), or facial expressions (raised eyebrows) elicit specific reactions, resulting in the emergence of different emotional states and feelings. However, their proper interpretation does not always occur. You can read more about what to pay attention to during an exchange of sentences to be well understood in the further part of the article.
  • Intrapersonal communication – taking the form of internal monologue. It is particularly favored by individuals who appreciate an intelligent audience ;).
  • Social communication is based on exchanging verbal and nonverbal messages among multiple individuals.
  • Indirect communication – possible using tools such as a telephone, computer, or – more elaborate – a letter.

Additionally, forms of communication can be divided into verbal and nonverbal.

verbal/nonverbal communication

What is more critical – nonverbal or verbal communication? How do they differ from each other?

Verbal communication encompasses everything you can hear. In the nonverbal variant, gestures, body movements, facial expressions (facial mimicry), and other signals visible to the human eye are significant. The combination of both forms of communication and their coherence allows for a satisfying dialogue based not only on spoken words and paralinguistic sounds but also on correctly interpreting body posture, facial expressions, hand movements, or the use of interpersonal space.

Why is nonverbal communication important?

55% of our communication consists of body language, 38% is voice tone, and words account for the remaining 7%.

Krzysztof Rzepkowski

Krzysztof Rzepkowski, the President of Sandler Training Poland, a trainer, manager, speaker, and academic lecturer with fifteen years of experience, confirmed that people perceive nonverbal cues better than verbal ones.

I often hear from people that they really liked my training. However, when I ask them specifically which parts, they don’t remember. That is not very important. […] The quality of your reception will be influenced by various other elements. What was the manner of nonverbal and verbal communication, how well you connected with them, and what was the energy and power in the room. […] Even the most substantive content at a conference can completely fall flat if the speaker is boring, unable to demonstrate openness with their body; if they communicate with their gaze downward, only speaking to the tips of their shoes. An exception is made for speakers who have authority and are respected by the audience. We are willing to forgive much more to those we esteem.

How to effectively utilize nonverbal communication?

The significance of the form in which we deliver our words

Although the functions of nonverbal communication are significant, it does not mean that words are unnecessary. As my interlocutor emphasizes, everything depends on their weight. This is highlighted, among other things, by intonation, which is influenced by:

  1. Body posture – when you lie down, the message is uncertain, and the voice becomes dull, lacking power. When you sit, it becomes more substantial but reaches its peak when you stand up. You have the advantage – the voice resonates differently in the chest, sounding more confident. Additionally, you can assist yourself with gestures.
  2. Modulation – a low voice is more persuasive, while a high voice may diminish authority in the recipient’s eyes (or rather, ears!).
  3. Speaking speed – by intonating, you create the impression that you know what you’re talking about. When you leave room for the other party’s communication and potential questions, you become a partner. You gain silence and calmness. Speaking very rapidly (fast speech) can give the impression that you’re not convinced about what you want to say. Fluency in speaking plays a significant role in message delivery.
  4. Speech impediments – hinder the conveyance of a severe message.

Sounds and paralinguistic factors, such as sighs, laughter, murmurs, or nods, also play a significant role in communication, confirming active listening.

Verbal Communication – Examples

Although we exchange sentences with many people daily, communication is not always mutually satisfying. During a conversation, misunderstandings can arise from unclear expression of thoughts, excessive emotions, misinterpretation of intentions, or inconsistency between nonverbal and verbal messages. It is worth mentioning the limited trust that significantly impacts interpreting the communication of the discussion partner. If we doubt their sincerity, it is difficult to maintain a good relationship and a smooth flow of information!

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Other communication barriers include language and cultural differences, communication noise, or different perceptions of reality. So how can we speak to be understood? First and foremost – directly. We express our feelings and needs while respecting the other party’s opinions and allowing them to tell a different view. What else should we pay attention to be a good interlocutor?

People like people who are similar to themselves, and this similarity also stems from language. We quickly decide – even within a few seconds over the phone – whether the person we are talking to is on the same wavelength or not. It may take a little longer when I see someone because I also give other senses a chance, explains Krzysztof Rzepkowski.

Classification is also based on the language register. In a business environment, we naturally hold people who use professional terms in high regard as long as we understand their meaning ourselves. Conversely, a person unfamiliar with that language quickly makes a negative judgment about their dialogue partner because they feel uncomfortable.

If I start pretending to speak a language that is not my natural language, I can make a fool of myself. You have to be genuine and be yourself, but in sales, we put a lot of emphasis on tuning in. If someone speaks softly, speak even softer. People who talk softly don’t like people who shout. And when someone speaks loudly, they want those who also speak loudly. Maybe they won’t be able to hear themselves. If someone speaks quickly, it’s worth responding to them equally briskly because they are likely to be energetic, and their speech apparatus can’t keep up with all the thoughts appearing in their mind. If someone speaks slowly, carefully choosing and delivering their words, they prefer people who do the same. The message is one thing, and how it is delivered is another. And that determines how it is received – explains the President of Sandler Training Poland.

communication hands

Nonverbal Communication — Revealing More Than Words!

One word can be spoken in a thousand ways. And we don’t necessarily have to use language to do it! Nonverbal communication (body language) may be more significant. It is also known as nonverbal speech and refers to the way information is conveyed through channels other than spoken or written language. It is essential when verbal communication is difficult or even impossible.

What makes up nonverbal communication?

  • Gestures – consciously or unconsciously used. Among them, we can distinguish:
  1. Illustrators (depicting characteristics of something or emphasizing important aspects of speech).
  2. Emblems (replacing words – for example, a raised thumb).
  3. Regulators (regulating the duration of the conversation – for example, shaking hands to bid farewell).
  4. Adaptors (uncontrolled gestures that facilitate adaptation to a given situation – for example, tucking hair behind the ear).

Krzysztof Rzepkowski emphasizes that in our culture, gestures during a conversation have less significance than, for example, in Mediterranean cultures, where the rich language of nonverbal communication among Italians, especially those from the southern part of the country, has spawned dozens of textbooks with photos.

Fun fact…

Is sign language considered nonverbal communication?

Sign language is not classified as nonverbal communication. Although it consists of gestures, it is a system of signs equivalent to words for a deaf person. For this reason, it is classified as verbal communication.

  • Facial expressions – a very difficult element to control. Based on facial expressions, one can assess the sincerity of the communication.
  • Physical distance – the smaller the distance between conversational partners, the closer their relationship. We distinguish between public distance (over 360 cm around the body), social distance (120-360 cm around the body), personal distance (45-120 cm around the body), and intimate distance (45-50 cm around the body, which is a very close distance).
  • Physical appearance – a relatively superficial form of nonverbal communication that is easy to manipulate, such as relying on the halo effect (the tendency to attribute positive or negative qualities based on first impressions). For example, tattoos, once associated with delinquency and theft, result in limited trust. On the other hand, being punctual may lead to attributing additional positive qualities, such as reliability and conscientiousness.

Punctuality is a classic example of the halo effect. If I am consistently on time for our meetings, it implies other qualities you attribute to me. This is a tool that impostors can effectively use. Simply dressing well and being punctual can lead to being judged as an honest person – warns Krzysztof Rzepkowski.

Adam Galinsky and Hajo Adam introduced the term “Clothing Cognition,” which refers to the influence of a specific clothing element on our perception among people. An example of this is a doctor’s coat, symbolizing knowledge and precision. However, if we refer to the same coat as a painter’s smock, the value of the person wearing it significantly diminishes. In the eyes of observers and the wearer themselves!

  • Body posture and movements – for example, slouching can be interpreted as closing oneself off, while steepling hands can indicate composure and self-assurance.
  • Eye contact – eye movements or changes in pupil size can reveal shyness, discomfort, insincerity of intentions, boredom, hostility, and aggression. Sustained eye contact for over 70% of a conversation may be seen as excessively intrusive and tactless.
  • Touch expresses a closer relationship with our conversation partner but also reveals emotions. For example, resting the chin on one’s hand may suggest boredom, while offering a handshake is a clear signal that the meeting is ending.

These elements of nonverbal communication are interconnected and can complement or contrast with other signals we convey through spoken or written language. Understanding all these elements is important to grasp the full context and message of communication between people.

Unconscious body movements and body posture in nonverbal communication

Not all nonverbal behaviors are conscious. Some of them, such as playing with hair, rubbing hands, or tapping fingertips on a table, are reactions to strong emotions like stress, reluctance, embarrassment, or impatience.

When it comes to unconscious nonverbal behaviors, they can be challenging to control. When I’m stressed, I may not even be aware that I’m doing something. […] Stress manifests differently in different individuals – for some, it manifests through their body, for others through their tone of voice, and for others, it shows on their faces. However, everything can be managed. The key is the level of self-worth – states Krzysztof Rzepkowski.

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So, how can we make unconscious nonverbal cues more conscious?

Controlling our bodies is complex and not obvious, but extraversion can be learned in certain situations. It is worth starting from within, not from the outside. Ask yourself, what stresses me in this situation? Which of my deficits is activated that I feel such pressure, embarrassment, shame, or fear when talking to a stranger? Let’s not treat the symptoms, but let’s get to the core problem and work on it – advises Krzysztof Rzepkowski.

Body language and words – effective communication in practice

As my colleague Arek Gleń from Sandler emphasizes, you don’t have to be confident in sales. You have to be confident in your actions. And I agree with that – Krzysztof Rzepkowski.

A good plan and practice will help us overcome our fears, weaknesses, and limitations in nonverbal and verbal communication. Through this, it will be easier for us to consciously deliver appropriate and precise messages, even in stressful situations.

Fear disappears only through action. If I have 100 phone conversations or client meetings, by the 101st, I feel much more confident in that area, knowing what I will say. The conversation framework is also fundamental. If I’m going into a meeting, having a sense of confidence gives me the awareness that I will be in charge, and I know which direction it will take. Usually, the client asks questions, and the salesperson tries to adapt, drifting and then crashing on the uncomfortable questions or getting stuck in shallow waters. If I have an action plan, know what questions to ask, can engage the client in the meeting flow, and then stick to that plan, I feel comfortable and confident – explains Krzysztof Rzepkowski.

communication work

Nonverbal and verbal communication in business relationships – how to utilize them? Examples

Effective communication (both nonverbal and verbal) is the foundation of valuable personal and business relationships. They have shared social significance that is worth leveraging! How can you properly prepare for a meeting with a potential client or business partner to make an excellent first impression, be understood, and increase your influence for a satisfying sales outcome?

Tuning, adjusting. In the initial response. […] No matter how much I try not to judge people, not to draw hasty conclusions, it happens beyond my control. Very quickly and unconsciously, conditioning a sense of security. People generally like people who are similar to themselves, so I can make an excellent first impression by knowing who I am meeting and preparing accordingly based on that information. Or I can quickly adjust on the spot – explains Krzysztof Rzepkowski.

Words, gestures… career – direct them consciously!

Good preparation for a meeting – checklist:

✅ I know who I’m meeting.

✅ I can tune myself to them with my attire, appearance, and communication.

✅ I have put myself in the client’s shoes and answered a set of potential questions.

✅ I am prepared for possible objections (there is no sale without them!).

✅ I have good subject matter preparation.

All of this increases my self-confidence. I don’t blush, and I don’t stutter. I have the ability to observe my body and control it. I am not stressed and can pay undivided attention – summarizes Krzysztof Rzepkowski.

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But what if it doesn’t go well? What if someone interprets the message, words, gestures, emotional state, and current mood in the wrong way? Will nonverbal and verbal communication fail? Try again! And remember – not everyone will be your client. If the meeting ends in failure, say “goodbye” and instantly… “next, please!”

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