Using Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace

What you say doesn't always have as much impact as what you do. At work, you might encounter nonverbal communication multiple times each day, and you might use your own body language to communicate with others. Learning to recognize the different types of nonverbal communication will help you communicate more effectively on the job.


Your supervisor and colleagues pay attention to your posture (also known as body positioning). When you lean toward other people, you communicate that you have a genuine interest in their thoughts and that you're actively listening to their ideas. If you sit or lean back, however, your body language might suggest boredom, disinterest, or disagreement.

Similarly, crossed arms can indicate boredom, defensiveness, or discomfort, while relaxed arms suggest that you're comfortable in your surroundings and open to engagement with others. If you walk down the corridor at work with your eyes cast down at the ground and your shoulders hunched, others might infer from your posture that you're depressed, sad, or tired.

An open, erect posture usually facilitates conversation. If you want to improve your relationship with your coworkers, clients, or boss, it's important to suggest with your body that you value others' opinions and enjoy their company. Avoid crossing your arms or legs because it closes you off to others.

Eye and Hand Contact

Engaging with others is essential to creating positive working relationships. Make eye contact with everyone you meet -- even if you're just passing in the hall on the way to a meeting. Maintain eye contact during conversations so the other person knows you're listening and attentive.

Similarly, it's important to shake hands when you meet someone or part from them. Skin-to-skin contact can create a bond of trust and camaraderie between coworkers as well as between you and a customer or client. Refusing to shake hands can violate cultural norms and insult others.

Facial Expressions

You can infer quite a few details about someone else's mood and opinions from watching his or her facial expressions. A relaxed smile might indicate that the person feels comfortable and happy, while a more forced smile could suggest that the individual wants to hide how he or she truly feels.

Other facial expressions could include scowls or frowns, raised eyebrows, clenched teeth, pursed lips, and partial smiles. If you work with someone for many years, you'll learn to tell how he or she feels with one facial expression.

Hand Gestures

You might have heard people say, sometimes jokingly, that they "talk with their hands." He or she is referring to hand gestures. Some people gesticulate constantly while they talk, while others don't move much during conversation. However, everyone uses hand gestures every once in a while.

If a colleague raises a hand during a heated discussion, he or she might want everyone's attention -- or want to get everyone else to stop talking. A clenched fist signals frustration or anger while a palm to the chest might indicate surprise or relief.

Hand gestures like the thumbs up or the okay sign are used to indicate satisfaction or approval. However, keep in mind that hand gestures change across cultures. The gestures you're familiar with in Canada might mean something completely different in Germany or Switzerland.

Incongruous Body Language

You might notice that a coworker's nonverbal communication fails to coincide with his or her words. For instance, people who say "yes" and shake their heads "no" might have an internal conflict regarding the conversation. Similarly, if your colleague laughs while issuing a serious statement, he or she might not have spoken genuinely.

These examples of nonverbal communication form an essential part of getting along with colleagues at work. Understanding body language will help you control your own communication as well.