Influencing Through the Power of Non-Verbal Communication

By Yvonne Farrell, Leadership & Management Development Consultant and Professional Coach

How can the power of observing and assessing non-verbal behaviours in others, and the ability to identify and regulate your own non-verbal communication style, aid your ability to communicate and influence more effectively and understand what others are really saying to you?

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” – Peter F. Drucker

Words are only the building blocks. Non-verbal behaviours reflect the feelings and emotions behind the words and are often a truer reflection of the real meaning of the conversation. 

Your ability to read those non-verbal behaviours can have a significant impact on how you influence others and situations. To really be influential you must have self-awareness around how you respond emotionally to people and those situations. To recognize how those emotions are physically demonstrated when you are communicating face to face.  Psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote extensively about the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and its link to highly successful leaders. Key to EQ is Self-Awareness and Self-Regulation; the ability to recognize, understand and adapt our emotional responses.

Communication
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Body Language

“The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain” – D. Goleman

Therefore, when we communicate, our first response is our internal emotional one and we communicate this response through our non-verbal cues. This happens whilst our logical thinking brain is still processing ‘what’ we are going to say. 

The linking of emotional intelligence to non-verbal communication is supported through what Goleman identified as Empathy. As part of the EQ components of Social Awareness, he identifies Empathy as sensing others’ feelings and perspective, and taking an active interest in their concerns. To do that, people with this competence are attentive to emotional cues and listen well. 

As leaders and managers, the more you can empathize the more trust you gain.  Empathy is linked to reading body language. Body language is controlled by our subconscious mind therefore being perceptive to what someone is displaying as well as saying, the more you can influence the outcome.

Below are some of the common cues demonstrated through Body Language.

Eye Contact

A strong stare can be considered hostile and condescending. Where you might consider strong eye contact to demonstrate truth, trust and being candid, always watch for how the other person is reacting to you. Depending on the type of conversation, your eye contact could be perceived as an attempt to intimidate or make the other person feel uncomfortable.  Also observe the other persons eye contact too. Not holding eye contact or looking away can indicate that the person is uncomfortable, disinterested, unprepared or not genuine.

Posture

Leaning in demonstrates interest and active listening whilst leaning away can indicate disinterest, hostility, or feeling intimidated. Watch that you don’t mirror the posture of the other person, especially a hostile one. 

Also consider the power of presence. Psychologist Amy Cuddy through her research at Harvard University, discovered that those who consciously displayed a more open expansive stance did feel more confident and actually came across as so to others. 

Facial Expression

Regardless of race, language or culture, the facial expressions for a number of emotions are the same. Being aware of how you use your facial expression is key to influencing a conversation. When working with coaching clients on influencing through non-verbal communication, the impact of the power of one’s facial expression and how it can impact communication is huge.

Call it as you see it!

Calling out what you see in those non-verbal behaviours can let the other person know you are aware that there is something not being said and allows the person to be honest and open up the discussion. As in; “Tom, although you are telling me everything is fine and you understand my request for the report by Friday, you look uncomfortable (disappointed, annoyed). Is there anything you need to discuss or for me to clarify further”?

Your Image

Finally, non-verbal communication is also demonstrated through how you dress and present yourself. What does it say to an interview panel when you show up well-groomed in a suit? How just that little bit more confident does it make you feel? Or when you tog out in your running gear at the start of the marathon line? What does that say to your fellow runners, those onlookers? How do you feel?

Non-verbal communication not only communicates messages and emotions to others but signals those same responses within us. If you can master self-awareness around your own non-verbal behaviours you are much more likely to identify behaviours in others and thus flex your behaviours accordingly to result in a far more effective communication leading to greater empathy and influence.

About the author

Yvonne is a Leadership & Management Development Consultant and Professional Coach. She has Consultancy, Multinational, and Public Service experience.

Yvonne works with Boards, Senior Leadership Teams, managers and individuals to assist and provide guidance in leadership behaviour development, organisational culture and change, employee engagement, and management development.

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