Effective communication is one of the key skills in leadership.
In order to inspire and motivate others, what we say is important, as well as how we say it. So we spend considerable amounts of time going over presentations, speeches, planning conversations out ahead of time. What many fail to take into account, however, is the importance of nonverbal communication.
As Milton Erickson, the father of NLP, said: “We cannot not communicate”.
Body language is what gives power and true meaning to our words, and it speaks for us even when we aren’t saying anything at all. Nonverbal communication plays a key role in effective leadership communication, as the tone of voice, volume, posture, gestures and facial expressions give a deeper meaning to what is being said, and they can either reinforce or contradict your verbal message.
As Inna Ohrimchuk writes in an Article on academia.edu: “The reality is that verbal and non-verbal communication work together, complementing, contradicting, substituting, and reinforcing each other. […] Nonverbal Communication is more effective than the words a person utters.”
Now that we have established the importance of knowing how to use your body in symbiosis with your voice to make a point, reinforce a statement or handle challenging situations, we need to consider what the umbrella term of nonverbal communication entails.
Positive body language includes, among others, an assertive, open posture, walking and standing upright, sitting calmly, a firm handshake and the right amount of eye contact, which all show confidence. Negative body language, like crossing your arms, avoiding eye contact, a closed posture or making yourself smaller, will have the opposite effect of seeming bored, unsure of yourself, arrogant or distant. There is also the issue of personal space – too much, and you may seem hostile, too little, you may seem intimidated or distant.
These are all things we do subconsciously, but by becoming aware of it, we can learn to slowly improve our body language for effective communication and, at the same time, learn to read that of others as well.
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, even goes so far as to say that not only do our minds influence our body language, but the way we use our body language can shape our minds. In her Ted Talk “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are”, she states that changing some aspects of our body language such as our facial expressions, gestures and posture can significantly change the way we are perceived by others, and how we feel about ourselves.
She discusses how through some typical gestures, like expanding, making yourself big, stretching out, taking up space, you’re basically opening up. She compares this to the animal kingdom in a humorous anecdote that rings very true. She explores one expression, which is known as pride, in particular, a victory pose, if you will. She describes the pose as the classic arms up in a V, chin slightly lifted. She goes on to explain how people who were born with sight and people who were born blind both do this when they win at competitions.
It doesn’t matter if they’ve never seen anyone do it. They win, they strike the same victory pose. This highlights how these types of body language are inside all of us, waiting to be unleashed.
She argues that “power posing” – standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident – can boost feelings of confidence, and might have an impact on our chances for success. So not only can positive body language improve our communication – it can actually change us and empower us.
In a Forbes.com article written in August 2018, called “5 Ways Body Language Impacts Leadership Results”, they lead in with this powerful statement: You make an impression in less than seven second. While this may be true, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost or everything will be smooth sailing after only 7 seconds. Luckily, it is possible to fine-tune our nonverbal communications over time, by first becoming aware of it, and practising techniques over time to engrain the communication habits of effective leaders into our subconscious body language.