9 Examples of Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace
Updated February 3, 2023
Many people use nonverbal communication to express how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. Understanding and communicating with others at work is one challenge, but interpreting nonverbal body language can present unique challenges. Whether you are working in person or remotely, it is important to know how to communicate with colleagues, supervisors and interviewers using gestures, tone of voice or other nonverbal cues to make your message more effective.
In this article, we explain 10 common nonverbal communication examples that can occur in the workplace.
What is nonverbal communication?
Nonverbal communication sends cues to others using actions rather than words. People can express happiness, engagement, concern, gratitude and confidence by responding nonverbally. This can include communication using hand gestures, eye contact, body language, appearance, facial expressions and tone of voice. Nonverbal communication can be one of the strongest forms of communication between coworkers. It can take place in many workplace situations including meetings, interviews or casual conversations.
Related: Types of Nonverbal Communication
Situational examples of nonverbal communication in the workplace
To help you become more aware of nonverbal communication in the workplace, here are a few examples:
1. Proper eye contact
Coworkers will often feel valued and appreciated if they know they’re being heard. You can help them feel this way by making eye contact while they’re speaking. Keeping your eyes on the person rather than on your computer, paperwork or cell phone lets them know you’re listening to their input. Maintaining eye contact while you’re replying to them also keeps the conversation engaging, and turning your camera on for video chats can build a respectful relationship between coworkers.
Example: A coworker approaches you with an idea to increase collaboration in your department. Show that you are actively listening by maintaining eye contact and nodding in agreement.
2. Positive tone of voice
Though the act of speaking is a part of verbal communication, how you speak can be considered nonverbal communication. Whether you are communicating in person or participating in a video conference call, always be aware of your tone of voice so it reflects your intended message. Maintaining a positive tone while talking with a coworker or supervisor can affect the energy of your whole conversation.
Example: An employee is giving a presentation proposing a new client engagement plan. They use an energetic and positive tone to spark enthusiasm for the project. This increases the level of interest from senior management as they notice the employee express excitement and passion for the project.
3. Personal appearance
The way you present yourself can create an impact greater than words might say. Your workplace appearance such as looking neat and prepared—even if you are in the comfort of your own home office—or keeping a tidy workstation can convey your self-confidence and make a positive impression on coworkers.
Example: You hope to speak with a supervisor to ask for a raise or promotion, so dress in business attire to showcase your dedication to both the position and professionalism in the workplace.
4. Good posture
The way you stand or sit at work can often display your attitude or attentiveness toward certain situations. Sitting or standing up straight can show you’re engaged in the conversation while also portraying a confident appearance during an interview.
Example: You are tasked with presenting a new idea to your supervisor and want to communicate effectively. You can sit or stand with your shoulders back to convey your confidence and why you believe your idea will benefit the company.
5. Appropriate touch
Communicating through touch has evolved from the pre-COVID workplace. Even without social-distancing protocols, people have always varied in their comfort levels with touch. Developing your cultural intelligence can be a useful, rapport-building skill in the workplace.
Example: In the United States, shaking a person’s hand firmly shows respect or that you’re pleased to meet them. In other cultures, it might be misconstrued as a sign of aggression. If you sense that it’s appropriate, a slight touch on the arm or pat on the shoulder can also be a way to show your support or encouragement without vocally expressing it.
6. Facial expressions
As people communicate with you, they often anticipate a nonverbal response by watching your facial expressions. Keep in mind that even during a virtual interview, your face can communicate what you’re feeling or thinking without using any words. Smiling, nodding and using your eyebrows can indicate a positive reaction when having a conversation.
Example: A coworker is telling you about their recent vacation, so you can smile and nod along while you listen to show you’re enjoying their story.
7. Personal space
During one-on-one conversations, you may move closer to the person you're speaking with. This shows that you’re interested in having a conversation and want to hear them clearly. Try to make sure you’re allowing enough space to maintain a comfortable environment for both of you.
Example: Before you sit down for a meeting, you can select a seat closer to a coworker to hear them better.
8. Hand gestures
The way you gesture or position your hands during conversations can convey how you’re feeling. If you move your hands to build expression throughout stories, people can become more engaged in what you’re saying. Hand gestures can also express friendliness or appreciation.
Example: A coworker is giving a presentation but they are uncertain about how others are receiving the information. A casual, yet discreet "thumbs up" can show them that it's going well.
9. Body language
Your overall body language can showcase your feelings during a meeting or while carrying on a conversation. Keeping your arms relaxed at your sides expresses openness and a willingness to listen, but crossing your arms might indicate that you’re closed off. You can also express politeness and undistracted attention by leaning forward in your seat.
Example: As you watch a coworker give a presentation, you sit upright with your arms on the table. This shows you’re engaged in their presentation. If you slouch in your seat, they may think you're disinterested.
Why is nonverbal communication important?
By accurately interpreting the nonverbal cues of your coworkers, you can gain a shared understanding of their feelings, emotions and attitudes toward certain situations. Your ability to communicate with shared meaning can encourage collaboration with team members, which may boost productivity, enhance engagement and strengthen your cultural competence.
Being aware of your communication strategies can also help you convey your feelings on various subject matters or situations. It can also help you exude confidence when talking with supervisors or express empathy when listening to a coworker.
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