The Importance of Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace

Gestures should reinforce our verbal messages.
Gestures should reinforce our verbal messages. (Image: Goodshoot RF/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

What would your workplace be like if it were devoid of nonverbal communication? If everyone spoke to each other straight-faced without body language and standing a distance apart that was predetermined by management, it would certainly be eerie, and odds are not much of that communication would be effective. Although we're often not aware of it, we use nonverbal communication everyday, and it plays an important role in the workplace.

Eye Contact

According to, most people's dominant sense is vision, so the way we look at people at work can say a lot about what we are really thinking and how we really feel. For example, if we fail to maintain eye contact during a conversation, we communicate that we are not interested in the conversation or that we may not be telling the truth. In addition, the way we look at people in the workplace can also communicate thoughts and feelings. For example, if we squint and frown while looking at someone, or if we widen our eyes and raise our eyebrows, we can communicate anger, surprise or disgust, even if that is not what our words convey. If you send negative messages through eye contact while at work, coworkers may be less likely to trust you or want to work with you, while customers might assume you are not telling the truth about your product or service.

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions can be unintentional or intentional, and they can communicate emotions that range from happiness and joy to hatred and fear. While you sit, working quietly at your workstation, your face could be communicating dangerous messages to your coworkers, such as "stay away" or "I'm too busy for you." Further, stress can make its way into your facial expressions, sending a contradictory message to an employee whom you are praising. To improve your nonverbal communication through your facial expressions, you can try to relax and banish stress or avoid getting into serious conversations while you are stressed. People who always tend to look upset or angry can simply explain this to their coworkers.


Often, gestures are used to emphasize a message that is being given verbally, but they can also be used to substitute for a verbal conversation if talking is not allowed. For example, a thumbs up sign can mean that a worker can go ahead and begin work. In the workplace, gestures can be an important tool for managers and employees to use to indicate the importance of something they say. For example, notes that a pat on the back that accompanies a "good job" by an employee can make the praise more meaningful. However, workers should be careful to explain the meaning of gestures to international workers, as gestures may have different meanings in their cultures. In some parts of the world, for instance, the thumbs up sign is derogatory.


How close people stand to one another in the workplace can communicate a message of its own. Bosses who stand close to their employees while reprimanding them, for example, may seem more aggressive. Space is one of the easiest nonverbal communication tools to misinterpret. You may simply be standing close to someone so that she can hear you, but she may interpret your position as a request for sexual intimacy and file a sexual harassment complaint. Further, personal space boundaries differ from culture to culture, so workers in multicultural companies should explain their discomfort to anyone who repeatedly stands too close.

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