To find career success, you need to understand how verbal and non-verbal communication work together in the employment environment.
While your verbal communication skills may help you ace the interview and land the job, non-verbal communication is equally important when it comes to job performance, promotion, and your enjoyment from your career.
Here's everything you need to know about verbal vs. non-verbal communication when it comes to work.
What is verbal communication?
Verbal communication is fairly straightforward – speech – but what does it mean in the workplace?
When employers talk about verbal communication, they generally mean:
- Speaking clearly and articulately
- Asking questions
- Asking for help
- Conveying information to managers and supervisors in an appropriate and timely manner
- Listening actively, without interrupting
- Receiving and integrating feedback without growing defensive
- Training others
- Providing customer service
- Analyzing non-verbal cues from others and responding verbally
It's fairly easy to understand how verbal skills play out in the workplace, as you can think back on things you've said or heard at work. It's tricker to get a handle for non-verbal communication within the workplace.
What is non-verbal communication?
Non-verbal communication consists of everything that's unsaid, including:
- Body language and posture
- Facial expressions
- Clothing and hairstyle
- Eye contact
- Distance between yourself and others
If you've ever felt too close to someone when networking at a cocktail party, or wondered why someone you just met is staring at your body rather than your face, then you know how uncomfortable it can be to interact with someone who has poor non-verbal communication. You were probably also taught to look people in the eye when speaking and to give others at least two feet of personal space unless you have a close relationship.
Non-verbal communication skills vary by culture. While eye contact when talking is normative in European cultures, Asian and Latin cultures view extended eye contact as a challenge to authority. If you're in a management role, understanding these cultural differences will help you be an effective manager to all your employees.
How non-verbal communication affects performance?
Now that you understand what workplace verbal and non-verbal communication skills are, how do non-verbal skills affect workplace harmony?
Put simply, non-verbal skills affect the way that your verbal message comes off and the way that others hear your words. To illustrate with an example, if you are training a new hire with your arms crossed at the chest or with a stern glare in your eyes, the new person may get the impression that you are frustrated or angry with them. This can negatively impact your relationship with the new hire. Lightening up the mood with open body language or a pleasant smile can smooth things over.
Conversely, if the new hire has their arms crossed and appears on guard while receiving instructions on how to complete a task, they clearly are not listening well. They seem defensive about something. By picking up on their non-verbal communication and asking open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of what's going on, you can defuse the situation and get on with training.
To give another example, perhaps you've heard the often-paraphrased Maya Angelou quote that people will forget what you said, but they will always remember the way you made them feel?
That's an example of the power of non-verbal communication...for good and for bad. If you slighted someone with an eye roll or sarcastic tone, they'll remember it–and it can negatively impact your working relationship. Conversely, if you went out of your way to comfort someone with a sympathetic smile or if you took the initiative to dress up for an important business meeting, others will remember your caring and professionalism.
To grow your non-verbal communication skills, investigate how you come off to others by asking close friends or family members. You may be surprised to find out that your clothing or facial expressions convey something unintended. The best job candidates have an open mindset and are always interested in learning new things that can positively affect their performance, whether they love their current role or want something different. Once you receive honest feedback from those who love you, think on how you can adjust your behavior so you come off the way you want to come off in your professional and personal life.
At EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality, we take soft skills seriously by providing students with personal and professional development resources tailored to the hospitality industry.