8 Rules for Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace
Young adults entering the workforce must acknowledge ,both, verbal and nonverbal methods of communication in the workplace. Verbal methods include effectively listening. Listening involves not only, listening to respond but listening for understanding and comprehension. Nonverbal methods of communication in the workplace involve multiple aspects like body movement (or kinesics), body positioning, space, workspace, physical environment, touch, appearance and artifacts. Understanding nonverbal communication is vital upon entering the workforce. One of the first things to address when understanding nonverbal communication is to learn the meanings of messages before assigning meaning to the message.
Body Movement (or Kinesics)
The usage of body movement (or kinesics) includes examining facial expressions, eye contact and gestures. Upon entering the workforce it is vital to understand the importance of kinesics since these are the primary ways messages are misconstrued or misunderstood. Facial expressions generally convey emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, or fear. They also send messages of interest or boredom. Eye contact is one of the most important forms of body language because it usually maintains the flow of a conversation. The American Management Association, addresses ways to effectively display body movements (or kinesics). The authors explain aligning verbal and nonverbal communication. “Communication is most effective when verbal and nonverbal elements are aligned—that is, when they are sending the same message. When your words say one thing, but the tone and body language say another, the other person receives a mixed and confusing message.” When verbal and nonverbal methods of communication are aligned, mixed messages are avoided and communication is better for employees.
Similar to body movement (or kinesics), body positioning is equally important. To effectively communicate one must position their body in positions of engagement and interest. For example, if a regional manager is explaining the companies new direction and the employees are leaning backwards. The manager may feel discouraged by a disinterested body position. Body positioning also impacts standing. The Journal of Soft Skills, outlines the avoidance of standing positions like hands on hips or body position toward one individual opposed floating from each individual in the group.
The use of space or proxemics examines interpersonal space and distance. Proxemics are determined by four spatial zones:
“The first zone is the intimate zone (0-0.5 m) in which people may exercise personal touch. The second zone is the personal zone (0-1.2 m) where people can shake hands with each other. The third is the social zone (1.2-3 m) which is seen in daily encounters of a social or business nature. The fourth zone is the public zone (over 3 m) which ensures a good distance maintained between individuals. (Kurien, D. N. (2010).)”
Personal space is an important aspect that works in relation to body positioning. If you and a coworker are discussing a recent meeting in an elevator is the person steps back to create little distance between you two, it is important to respect that person’s personal space and refrain from stepping toward them.
The amount of workspace allowed for employees is an example of nonverbal communication. Amount of workspace interrelates with status. The more workspace an employee has usually reflects the employee’s status. For example, the CEO of Huffman and Huffman law firm has a spacious corner office with a desk, two chairs and a couch. Whereas, the lower level positions like the CEO’s assistant does not have an office has a small cubicle directly outside of the CEO’s office. The size and location of workplace indicates status, as well as, creates privacy and physical barriers between the CEO and the staff. Understanding the impact of workplace can improve nonverbal communication by allowing young adults to identify those of higher status and enables them to easily assess them when they have certain questions or concerns. The text Interpersonal Communication skills in the Workplace identifies two ways to tackle the workspace or distance barrier, 1) refrain from holding back and not communicating and 2) take deliberate steps to bridge the gap between status. By establishing these two ways to avoid internal conflicts between status differences young adults must look for ways to prevent the tensions causes by workplace nonverbal communication.
Factors of the physical environment like, layout, cleanliness, lighting, temperature, air quality, windows, appearance, and handicap accessibility contribute to the overall production of an organization. For example, if the Lucy Charms cereal factory keeps the lighting high and fail to properly clean the accumulation of dust in the vents. Employees at the factory may suffer from severe headaches and allergic reactions to the dust. Also, these physical factors will increase the rate of sick days taken by employees and turnover rates. Employee satisfaction will decrease and slow the production process. The Journal of Business Communication states, “Symbolic and physical properties of the physical environment support or constrain social interaction and communication in work processes.” To avoid these physical environmental factors, those entering the workforce should adapt to the organizational culture if applicable and inform those in positions of power to make change.
Touch is important within work setting because they contribute to the overall comfort of a coworker or peer. With the Communication Theory course, we identified five types of touch, 1) Functional- Professional, 2) Social- Polite, 3) Friendship- Warmth, 4) Love-Intimacy, 5) Sexually arousing. Within organizational settings the first three forms of touch are acceptable depending on how long you have been a part of the organization. Upon early entrance, avoid any form of touch to avoid sexual harassment or uncomfortable tension between coworkers or employees.
Personal appearance within the workplace is a direct reflection of one’s self. Within the Nonverbal Communication course instructed by Professor Wood indicates we generally judge people based on our first impression. Professional appearance is displays seriousness about your work. Also, professional dress creates a positive attitude amongst coworkers.
Artifacts or objects communicate our views, attitudes, and marital status. For example, wedding/engagement rings, pictures, even bumper stickers are indications of marital status, sexual orientation and political views. All of the examples listed above are communicated through nonverbal communication. Those newly employed must be aware of the negative or positive attitudes associated with artifacts.
Overall, communication scholars support the importance of nonverbal communication within organizational settings. Nonverbal methods of communication in the workplace involve multiple aspects like kinesics, body positioning, space, workspace, physical environment, touch, appearance and artifacts. It is importance for those entering the workforce to acknowledge and understand how to combat these factors for effective communication.
Kurien, D. N. (2010). Body Language: Silent Communicator at the Workplace. IUP Journal Of Soft Skills, 4(1/2), 29-36.
Kupritz, V. W., & Hillsman, T. (2011). The Impact of the Physical Environment on Supervisory Communication Skills Transfer. Journal Of Business Communication, 48(2), 148-185. doi:10.1177/0021943610397269
McIntosh, P., Davis, J. H., Luecke, R., & American Management, A. (2008). Interpersonal Communication Skills in the Workplace. [New York?]: American Management Association.