Communicating Without Words

Communicating Without Words

By Suzanne Kleinberg

Have you ever felt that no matter what words that were coming out of your mouth, you weren’t being heard?  Did you take into account that your body language or clothes may be speaking for you?

People tend to make their initial judgements through their eyes, not their ears.  When you are interviewing for a job or giving a presentation, you want to be sure that your audience is listening.

Here are some tips on how to stop shortchanging yourself in those crucial meetings.

The biggest form of non-verbal communication is body language – your posture and mannerisms reveal what you are thinking (usually without you knowing it).  Try to be aware of how your body language appears to others.

Did you know that when you:

  • stand with your hands on your hips, others interpret that you may be aggressive?
  • cross your arms over your chest that you give off a feeling of lack of confidence or defensiveness?
  • lean back in a chair with crossed arms that people think you are arrogant or snobbish?
  • rub your nose that others associate that with lying?  (Thanks, Pinocchio!)
  • look down when you speak that you are showing doubt in what you are saying?
  • play with your hair, many interpret that as a lack of self-confidence?  Be careful, because for some men this is a signifier that you’re flirting with them, which is the last thing you want in the workplace.
  • avoid eye contact or your eyes shift from side to side that you are seen as insecure or lying?
  • slouch that you give off a feeling of disinterest or self-consciousness?
  • answer a question to anyone but the asker, you are showing that you may be biased which can be interpreted as racist, sexist or discriminatory?
  • shrug your shoulders, you are telling people that you don’t believe in what has been just said even though you may have been the one to say it?
  • tap your foot or pen that you are showing impatience and boredom?

However, not all body language is negative.  Learn to use these positive subconscious signals to your advantage:

  • Keep your palms open, not clenched.  This signals sincerity and openness towards the listener.
  • Lean forward slightly to demonstrate interest in what other people have to say.
  • Make eye contact when others speak even if they don’t attempt eye contact with you. It shows interest and respect.  But don’t stare or be unnatural.  You don’t want to creep people out with a zombie glare.
  • Nod gently when others are making a point or when you know some who is nervous is speaking.  It provides encouragement and a safe environment for others to express their ideas.
  • Sit or stand upright, keeping your shoulders and arms relaxed.  You are radiating confidence and openness towards others.
  • Give others a relaxing amount of body space.  No one likes to be crowded or to talk to someone too far away.  Being too close creates tension and a feeling of aggression.  Being too far is a sign of clear disinterest or that you just don’t like them.
  • Try to mirror the body language of the other person.  It creates a feeling of being in sync and makes the other person feel relaxed and understood.  Don’t overdo it or else you will offend the other person because they will feel that you are ridiculing them. (Everyone hates a mime!)

Another way to communicate without words is through clothing and make-up.

Business clothing should not be a reflection of the latest fashion trend.  A woman should be noticed for who she is and her professional skills above what she wears.  Her business wear should be industry and company dress code appropriate.

Start with a suit (skirt or pants) for the most conservative look.  Skirts should be knee-length or slightly above or below.  Avoid extremes.  A skirt more than two inches above the knee may give off the wrong signals.   Always ensure that your clothing is the correct size (i.e. too tight will not earn you respect or friends).  You can change the tone of the suit with the blouse or top that you wear under the jacket.

Faces, not feet, should be the focal point in business, so choose conservative shoes.  Remember low heels please.  In spite of current fashion, sandals or open-toed are not always considered office appropriate.  If it is accepted in the company (check with the dress code, not the person in the next cubicle), make sure that your feet are well-maintained.  Pedicures are recommended even if you don’t get one done by a professional.

When it comes to accessories and jewelery, less is more.  Keep it simple: one ring per hand, one earring per ear.  Accessories should reflect your personality, not diminish your credibility.

The same rule applies to make-up and hair – less is more.  Keep to neutral tones on your face.  Remember: you are not walking the red carpet or being hounded by paparazzi. You are going to work or a job interview.

If you are going to an interview and you are unsure of the company’s dress code, always err on the conservative side (i.e. wear a traditional suit).  You won’t feel out of place if you are in a suit and your interviewer is more casually dressed.  It demonstrates respect.  You will definitely feel out of place if you go to an interview dressed more casually than the interviewer.  This situation will guarantee a negative impression from your interviewer.  They will think that you are lazy, uninterested or will be a poor representative for their company.  And you don’t want to lose your dream job because you wore jeggings!

So, remember: spend some time contemplating your non-verbal actions along with what you plan to say and you should have an easier time rising to the top!

Suzanne Kleinberg is a Toronto based career coach and author who has provided consulting services to corporations, not-for-profit organizations and individual clients. With a B.A. in Economics from York University, Masters in Project Management and PMP certification, Kleinberg is an avid ‘career changer’, having worked in a variety of fields that include stock brokerage, advertising, television production, financial and IT.
In 2010, Kleinberg founded Potential to Soar, a unique career and talent coaching service wherein she guides new graduates, seasoned professionals and corporations, small and large, through private coaching, customized workshops and psychometric assessment tools.
Kleinberg’s books include Employee Rights and Employer Wrongs, an everyman’s guide to navigating the complex world of labour and employment law, It’s All About the Elizabeths, which introduces financial management to teens, and From Playstation to Workstation, aimed at youth starting their careers.
From Playstation® to Workstation is available in paperback via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and her website,