I find it hard to conceal my emotions from others. if I’m excited about something, you’ll know it. If I’m disappointed about something, I won’t be able to hide that from you either. If I’m particularly upset about something, I struggle to maintain eye contact. If I’m angry, I stomp around. If I’m sad, I’m quiet, and move and talk more slowly than my usual frenetic pace.

I like to tell myself that my openness communicates authenticity to others, giving me credibility.

At the very least, I know that being open with others helps them know me.

All of those nonverbal cues I give… that’s the other 93%. You could perceive all of that without me even uttering a single meaningful word.

Only 7% of communication is verbal.  If we as leaders want to skillfully communicate with others, we need to pay attention to the other 93%. We need to improve our ability to perceive others’ nonverbal communication while increasing awareness of how our own nonverbal cues affect others.

Our facial expressions, posture, gestures, tone of voice, rate of speech, and accent all influence others’ perception of and understanding of our words.

What are some practical ways we can improve our communication skills by focusing on the other 93%?

Ask for feedback from trusted friends or advisers. Prior to a meeting or presentation, ask someone you trust to pay special attention to the nonverbal components of your communication. Then listen carefully as your friend shares their input. Others may be able to pick up on nuances of your nonverbal communication that you are not aware of.

Practice being mindful of areas of nonverbal communication that you need to change so you can self-correct. Awareness is the first step toward change of unproductive nonverbal communication habits. Perhaps you talk too fast when you’re nervous or lower your voice when you are meeting someone new. When you recognize those habits, you can prepare mentally for those situations and choose new behaviors. Since I know that I look down or away when I am very upset, I can make an effort to maintain eye contact even in the midst of conflict.

Use others’ nonverbal cues to gauge your own communication effectiveness. When my husband was a pastor, he scanned the congregation to get a sense of their reactions to his messages. He wanted to keep his listeners engaged and interested in the topic of the day, so he always aimed to keep anyone nodding off to sleep. By paying attention to others’ non-verbal communication during conversations or presentations, we will gain important information about how they are receiving our messages.

Join the conversation!

How do you use nonverbal communication to your advantage as a leader?

In what ways do you focus on “the other 93%”?

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is reposted with permission.