Nonverbal Communication for Effective Leadership

Some experts tell people it isn’t what you say but how you say it that’s more important. They’re wrong. Good communicators skillfully use both. Leaders like John F. Kennedy knew that the right words combined with powerful gestures and tone could inspire a nation. Business leaders can use those same tools. Here are some ways to harness nonverbal communication techniques to enhance your message. When paired with what you say, it’s an important lesson in communication for effective leadership.

Nonverbal Communication Tips for Effective Leadership

The Eyes Have It

One of the most common tools of nonverbal communication is eye contact. As a speaker, it’s a way to acknowledge someone’s presence. As a listener, it lets people know they’re heard. But when does eye contact cross the line into staring? Some suggest you should make eye contact 50 percent of the time while speaking and 70 percent while listening. Remember that’s not continuous contact. In many cultures, the limit is around 4-5 seconds at a time.

The Pause

The absence of sound can be deafening. It catches people’s attention. That makes it a powerful tool if you want to emphasize a point. Some speakers use this by making an important point, then pausing a few seconds to give the audience time to digest it before continuing. Be careful about overusing this technique. Prolonged silence can make people uncomfortable. It can also give others the opportunity to take over the conversation.

Be In the Moment

Ever talk to someone who pulls out their cell phone to read a text they just received? No matter how good the person thinks they are at multi-tasking, the message you get is that you’re not important. Effective communication is about receiving as well as giving a message. So if someone is talking to you, give the person your full attention. Eye contact and gestures like nodding your head give speakers the feedback that you’re listening.

Space It Out

Space theory is another way to hone your nonverbal message. It’s based on the physical distance between speaker and the listener. The space influences the type of message you deliver. For example, public space is more appropriate for one-way communication to an audience. That’s generally 12-15 feet apart. Social distance (4-12 feet) is better for business meetings where the goal is to exchange information. Communication occurring less than four feet apart is generally reserved for two-way or confidential messages.

Lean In

Body orientation can also be an important form of nonverbal communication. That’s how we turn our legs, shoulders and head toward (or away) from someone. One way to apply that is to lean in when you agree with a speaker or you find something they said interesting. It’s a signal that you support them. Another idea is to turn your torso to face someone who is posing a question in a meeting you’re leading.

Strong leaders understand that they need to make use of both verbal and nonverbal tools if they want to deliver an effective message. Consider these techniques to help build the nonverbal side of your leadership message.