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Communicating in a business environment requires more than just effective verbal and written communication. It's likely that your non-verbal communication cues enter the room before you speak. Everything from gestures, eye contact, posture, appearance and facial expressions offer an indication of moods and thoughts. Because of this, it’s important to be aware of the non-verbal signals you send while working in the office with co-workers and clients, during business meetings and interviews, at conferences and when you’re giving presentations.
In a business setting, a neat, professional appearance instantly paints the picture of a confident, capable individual ready to take on any task. Your appearance, often recognized instantly, sets the tone for your interactions. Keep your hair tidy and pulled back out of your face. Wear well-pressed clothes, and avoid garments that are too tight or too loose. Use minimal makeup and opt for neutral, earth-tone colors. Avoid distracting accessories. In general, take cues from upper management on appropriate dress for your business setting.
Whether you communicate with a colleague or meet with a client, make eye contact to show your interest and to help guide a simple “hello” into a meaningful conversation. Connect with members of the audience when you give a speech for sales goals, or even during meetings, by making direct eye contact with several people in the room. Eye contact helps to engage people and keep them tuned in to what you’re saying. Avoid diverting your eyes away from your audience or the people you meet; it sends the message that you’re not interested in what they have to say.
It's hard to hide facial expressions; emotions ranging from happy and excited to sad, angry and nervous are identified by smiles, frowns, lowered eyes or raised eyebrows. A smile is easily recognized as friendly and welcoming. Smile often when meeting new people or presenting information, and be sure that the rest of your non-verbal communications goes along with your smile. Avoid frowning in business settings; instead, ask questions to clarify your confusion. Otherwise, you risk offending colleagues, especially in the instance when there’s a guest speaker presenting information.
From waving at a colleague to pointing to a figure on a chart, gestures are an important function in daily business communications. Nod your head during conversations to show that you’re actively listening. Offer your hand for a firm, but not overpowering, handshake when greeting people. Practice etiquette by holding the door for colleagues based upon rank, as a gesture of respect. Avoid standing with your hands in your pocket or folded. When speaking, use your hands to help you get your points across.
Sit and stand up tall. Not only does good posture do wonders for your body, it’s a way of showing your fellow business professionals that you’re alert, aware, approachable and confident. Poor posture, like slouching in a chair or leaning while standing, makes you look less uninterested in what’s going on around you. This type of non-verbal cue may keep people from approaching you and getting to know you in a business setting.
Non-verbal communication techniques, such as gestures, facial expressions and eye motions, work to complement verbal communication, so take care in not letting the two contradict each other.
In international settings, be careful about the non-verbal cues you send. Not all non-verbal communication is created equal. Different countries follow different rules and you should make yourself aware of them before business travel or meeting with an international client.
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Miranda Brookins is a marketing professional who has over seven years of experience in copywriting, direct-response and Web marketing, publications management and business communications. She has a bachelor's degree in business and marketing from Towson University and is working on a master's degree in publications design at University of Baltimore.