Everything you do communicates

The Cantonese have a proverb that warns us to watch out for the man whose stomach doesn’t move when he laughs. Flab aside, does your stomach move when you laugh? Do your talk and your walk say the same thing?

Actions, they say, speak louder than words and the words you say are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you communicate to others. Everything you do communicates. You brim with unspoken messages, some inadvertent, many, or even most, involuntary.

In fact, what you don’t say often speaks much louder than what you do say. Your silent communications reflect your innermost self, your skills and your confidence. It hides or highlights your talents and accomplishments. It indicates how much appreciation and respect you accord yourself and expect from others.

This in turn strongly influences your career paths, friendships, pay raises, promotions and responsibilities. It affects how much help and support you receive from others and whether others accept your ideas and implement them.

So what is this silent language?

Think about the way you sit and stand. This communicates volumes. It tells people how interested you are in them and in what you’re doing, how delighted you are (or not) to be there, how you feel about yourself and what you think your place is in the scheme of things.

Are you a Shuffler who continually paces to and fro? A Shifter who constantly moves weight from one foot to the other? A Sprawler who takes up a lot of space? A Sleepyhead who looks as if you hardly have the energy to sit, walk or stand? Or does your upright posture show that you are calm, composed, confident, and competent? (Good posture doesn’t just look good, it helps you breathe better and think better, too.)

You’re probably not aware of your movements and expressions but these tell a story, too. Every time you move or change your posture, seating position or facial expression, you’re signalling something about your attitudes and feelings.

Do you detract from your message and your influence by sucking on a pen, fiddling with a paper clip, your hair, or your tie? Do you diminish your authority by constantly clearing your throat, tapping your foot or pumping your leg?

Empty your mouth and your hands to look less nervous and present a more positive and confident image. Take your hands off your hips or away from behind your head to look less aggressive, condescending, defiant or hostile. Keep your movements open and relaxed, look at people when they’re speaking, and smile (unless it’s clearly unsuitable). This positively shapes the entire conversation and encourages strong relationships.

Even the way you dress, the jewellery you wear and accessories you carry communicate. They tell people how you think about ourself and how you want others to view you.

Your voice communicates, too. The way you speak can totally undermine or powerfully strengthen what you intend to say. When you speak, do people sit up and take notice, or do they switch off?

The volume and tone of voice you use, for example, reveals whether or not you’re nervous or in a hurry and it can even signal how much you like the person you’re speaking with. Your inflections proclaim not just what part of the country you’re from and what your social background is; they can also show how confident you feel about what you’re saying.

Your pitch, whether it’s high, low, flat, or sharp, how quickly you speak, how clearly you articulate, the energy and rhythm you speak with can make you sound pompous or powerful, pleasant or pretentious. Linguists and psychologists have identified different tones people habitually use: accusing, appeasing, bossy, cheerful, dull, friendly, haughty, know-it-all, over-the-top, and positive, to name a few. How would people describe your voice?

To sound more credible and confident, lower your voice. To sound more authoritative, drop the rising inflections to less than 30 per cent. To sound more thoughtful and serious, slow down a bit. To sound more energetic and enthusiastic, speed up a bit.

Match your walk to your talk

People interpret your words and decide what you really mean based on your silent messages. When you’re unaware of them, you communicate oceans of information accidentally and involuntarily. Your walk and your talk may not match.

When you’re aware of them, you can convey less of what you don’t want and more of what you do want. That puts your verbal messages and nonverbal messages in harmony and makes people more apt to like you, believe you, and trust you.

Discussion questions

How well do your actions match your words? How well does your silent communication–your body language–communicate your intentions and meanings? What can you do to strengthen your communication?