Employee Comms

Beware how you’re communicating when you’re not even saying a word!


 — June 9th, 2018

Beware how you’re communicating when you’re not even saying a word!

So, how do you decide which means of communication to use, or do people even give much thought to that question?

7 steps for a great internal communications audit & how to use the results

Opening your internal chat window and pinging your colleague, even if he is seated right next to you, or using the phone is so much quicker and easier.

But when it comes to the richness of information exchanged, nothing can beat age-old face-to-face communication - and there are plenty of good reasons for this.

Our human body has so many channels of sending out vital information about what we are thinking, feeling and intending, that it makes sense to pay close attention to these channels.

Nonverbal communication is precisely this – how our body sends out signals through expressions on our face, our body posture, changes in our movement, to name a few.

It is a well-established fact that when it comes to communicating, our nonverbals can convey anywhere between 50% and 100% of the entire message. Think about that for a second!

And when actions and words are contradictory, people believe in the actions as these come from our most primitive and ancient brain and are deemed to be more honest than words.

Here are a few ways in which organizations can utilize the power of this mode for their internal communications to not only shape the way employees interact but also mold the organizational culture as a whole.

Teams: If employees pay attention to using nonverbals in the right way, it can boost bonding within their team, and connect better with other teams. Here’s how:

  • When you want to put a point across to people from a different team, where they might not be aware of your own team’s use of specific terminology and words, using hand gestures can help them understand each other better, and consequently connect faster. These gestures could be as generic as moving your hands with the natural flow of conversation, varying their position from the palm facing upward, perpendicular or downwards, as per the topic being discussed. Or specific ones like using the fingers to count along while listing specific points, bringing your hand close to your heart to show that a subject is really close to you, and so on.

When hand gestures are used during conversations, people receiving the message are more engaged, understand it easier and remember it later, compared to when it’s all words and no hand gestures.

  • Gestures, expressions, and use of voice for maximizing impact should vary according to the medium being used at a meeting or in a conversation. For example, if you are attending a video conference, you need to tone down hand gestures because they can be distracting if there is a delayed feed at the other end, which there frequently is.

Also, using gestures below the table is a waste of time as they can’t be seen. And when you’re on the phone you obviously don’t have the luxury of being able to use different parts of the body to add impact to your point.

Instead, be conscious of vocal intonations to emphasize your points. While a low-pitched voice can help convey more authority, use of the right amount of pauses can help highlight a point or the gravity of an issue being discussed.

  • Body language during presentations or meetings: when preparing for these, a presenter might have worked on the gestures, tone of voice, and the posture he or she will use etc.

But what needs to be kept equally front of mind is the body language conveyed in the Q&A session that follows, otherwise composure can quickly crumble, particularly when the presenter doesn’t like the question being asked. There’s no point winning the presentation if you lose your audience in the Q&A afterward.

  • Nonverbals are powerful aids during difficult conversations. Like when you want to request something from the boss, or the boss wants to tell his/her team members to redo the entire proposal, or HR has to tell an employee they are being let go, etc.

These are situations when body language can be tweaked, to tone down hierarchical authority or dominance if it exists so that the other party is more inclined to accept something that might be difficult for them.

Tilting the neck while listening, exposing the palms of hands a bit more during the conversation, sitting with a leaned in posture are a few ways of showing the other person that you care. And when one is able to trust the other, they will listen more willingly to each other.

Leadership roles: Research shows that managers and leaders need to exercise a lot of emotional intelligence along with technical expertise to be successful in their role. Here are ways nonverbal communication helps

  1. The leader should understand team members’ usual nonverbal behavior – how do each of them normally greet, speak, accept or reject a point of view, etc. And consciously evaluate when this behavior is off, so it can be addressed by the leader with the individual.
  2. The manager needs to be aware of their own nonverbal behavior especially their reactions to stress since these are a significant part of each of our body language. The easiest to spot stress reactions include self-comforting gestures like fiddling with a ring or watch, breaking eye contact for long, tapping feet, turning away while speaking etc.
  3. Being aware of own body signals in real time means leaders can consciously control how much stress they want to convey to the team, be it from their superiors, clients, or other stakeholders.
  4. Good leaders create an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable about expressing their opinions to them. For example, leaders can dictate or influence the atmosphere simply by the way they sit opposite an employee, whether they realize it or not.

If it’s a male boss and he sits leaning back in his chair with his hands clasped behind his head and one leg crossed squarely over the other, he is displaying a highly dominant posture which is not conducive to open dialogue.

As a result, the employee might not feel comfortable about playing an open card with such a boss, making conversations difficult and open up the possibility of gaps in communication.

7 steps for a great internal communications audit & how to use the results

Organizational culture: Nonverbals can play a big role in setting the tone for the culture encouraged by the company. Here are a few ways.

  • The way work desks are arranged to encourage or discourage conversations can determine the openness and fluency of dialogue and conversations among colleagues.

The type of tables, chairs etc. used in the meeting rooms all have an impact on the rapport shared by colleagues. For example, large formal boardrooms are not appropriate for meetings between smaller teams and individuals, while informal meeting rooms might not be appropriate for more corporate deal-making discussions.

  • How frequently meetings are arranged, offsite activities encouraged, what processes are laid out regarding priority of choice of channels of interaction, all determine the face time shared by work colleagues. When nonverbals are given scope to be accommodated within conversations, exchange of information and engagement becomes quicker and richer.

These are all thoughts on the essence of nonverbal communication for internal purposes. Think a step ahead, about how companies put themselves out in the world around them, to their clients, their shareholders, and most importantly their own employees.

The possibilities for making an impact with this powerful tool – which is literally in our own hands – are endless!

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