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3 Nonverbal Cues You Should Master

Posted on March 20, 2019
Woman with a long thick braid of dark hair, wearing a light blue, long-sleeved button-down shirt, with her fists in the air looking very angry

Nonverbal communication is as important as the words you speak. It can convey disinterest, excitement, nervousness, and fear, among other emotions such as joy, sadness, or even arrogance. Sometimes our nonverbal communication is spot on, while other times it does not accurately convey our feelings or emotions.

There are three specific nonverbal cues you can work on to ensure you remain professional and control how others perceive you and what you are trying to communicate:

Maintaining Eye Contact

I am sure you have talked with folks whose eyes spend more time darting about the room, than focusing on you. Then there are also those people who zero in on you and never look away, making you feel as if the person is purposefully burrowing into your sole, uninvited. Neither of these scenarios are good or professional. The former can convey disinterest, and worse, it can create a lack of trust. The latter feels invasive. You should strive to establish a healthy balance. You want to demonstrate your interest by making direct eye contact, while not appearing to stare. This means making eye contact while occasionally looking up or down, at hour hands, or toward the floor. Be careful about looking about the room because it can look as if you are keeping your eyes peeled for someone more interesting with which to strike up a conversation.

To determine if you are making a comfortable and professional amount of eye contact, begin by paying attention. Note where you look, how long you maintain eye contact, etc. You can also ask a trusted colleague to tell you about the eye contact you make in professional encounters. If you don’t make enough eye contact, start making a conscious effort to increase it a little at a time. You will look incredibly uncomfortable if you try and amp it up too quickly. If you make too much eye contact, then try and dial it back, again a little at a time by actively practicing looking away (again, at your hands if you use them to convey points, or toward the ceiling, or a fixed element of the room, just avoid looking about the room).

Controlling Your Facial Expressions

While our words might be conveying our acceptance, our facial expressions could convey a deep disappointment. In other words, our facial expressions often tell the truth. In both our professional and personal lives, it is important to control our facial expressions. There are times when you might be exited or disappointed, but need to convey a more tempered message. For example, if you and a colleague are up for a promotion and the colleague gets it, you need to be happy and supportive. You will look like a sore loser if you verbally congratulate the person, but the expression on your face conveys your deep disappointment or even jealousy.

Controlling your facial expressions is possible, but it takes practice and discipline. For those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves, it can be especially difficult. Begin by practicing in the mirror. You have to see, for yourself, what your facial expressions look like and how those expressions feel – as in how they feel to you when you are making them. Once you have identified your more common expressions: excitement, disappointment, anger, frustration, etc., then focus on more neutral expressions. Once you know the difference in the feeling of frustration versus contentment, then you can prevent the frustrated face from forming. From there, you can begin to practice out in public. Again, asking a trusted colleague to assist you by giving you reminder cues or warning looks, etc., can be extremely beneficial.

Adopting a Professional Appearance

I’m sure you have heard the saying, “Dress for the job you want.” Well, there is a great deal of truth in that sentiment. Our outward appearance says a great deal about us. If you arrive for an interview in a pair of wrinkled pants and a tie with a stain on it, it suggests you don’t really care about the position. It might also suggest you don’t pay attention to details.

I have said this before, you don’t need to purchase expensive clothes to convey professionalism or demonstrate you are ready for a promotion, but your appearance should be neat, clean, and represent your career trajectory. If you want to be promoted to manager, then you need to dress like a manager. This means that while the rest of your colleagues are wearing khakis and polo shirts, you might want to start wearing a button down and a blazer (if management is typically wearing a suit).

By focusing on your nonverbal communication and what it conveys, you can train yourself to maintain better eye contact, control your facial expressions, and perfect your appearance. Overall, this will make you more professional, which can lead to infinite possibilities.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University

Posted in interpersonal-communications