Before You Utter Your First Word, Your Employee Is Already Forming an Opinion of What You Have to Say

In 1971, Albert Mehrabian published a book Silent Messages, in which he discussed his research on nonverbal communication. He concluded that individuals based their judgments on factors other than words; specifically, 55% to body language, 38% to the tone of the voice, and only 7% to the person’s actual words. This rule has stood the test of time. Nonverbal messages can speak louder than any verbal message you are sending.

The Hidden Language of Leaders

Most managers learn the common nonverbal communication clues and adapt their body language accordingly. However, you might not be as alert to others, like what your hands are saying.

Here are some nonverbal pitfalls to watch for in yourself and others:

The Handshake

We all know that a firm handshake is critical—it is the most powerful nonverbal cue. Moving on.

Your Hands

Gesturing or talking with your hands is very natural. Scientists have long known that a region of the brain called Broca’s area is important for speech production. It’s also active when we wave our hands to power conversation. Just don’t get carried away as too many hand gestures can be distracting, or worse yet, perceived negatively. Keep your hands away from your mouth as this is widely interpreted as disagreement, insincerity, or lying.

Crossing Arms

Crossing your arms is widely known as an act of defensiveness and that you are hard to approach, but did you know that crossing your arms can also hurt your memory? Body language researchers Alan and Barbara Pease found that unfolded arms and legs increase our ability to remember by 38%.

Your Posture

Stand and site erect. We’re not talking ramrod posture, but show some energy and enthusiasm. Check yourself out on FaceTime or Skype (or even the old-fashion mirror).

Eye Contact

Look the other person in the eye. You don’t want to stare, as this shows aggression. Conversely, constantly looking around the room conveys a lack of confidence or discomfort with what is being discussed.


If you want employees to speak up, don’t multitask while they do. Stop checking your text messages. Focus by turning toward them and making eye contact. Leaning forward, nodding and tilting your head are nonverbal ways to show you are engaged.


A genuine smile not only shows your own sense of well-being, but also tells those around you that you are approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy.

Don’t Fidget

Not to sound like your mother, but there is nothing worse than someone playing with his or her hair, clicking a pen top, tapping a foot or unconsciously touching parts of the body.

To learn more about nonverbal body language and how it can affect your career, read The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work, The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can help—or Hurt How You Lead, and most recently, The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What To Do About Them by Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD.

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