Six Types of Non-verbal Communication

Reading others and their body laguage is important to your leadership career success

Successfully influencing others is crucial to achieving your goals. To influence well, you need to competently read the clues your audience is giving you. Whether that audience is 1 or 1,000. 

You'll want to know if your audience is getting into your message and agreeing with you. Equally, you also want to be aware if they are disagreeing, or being put off by your message.

The good news is, you don't need to wait until the end of your pitch to figure out people's reactions. Being conscious of changes in their body language, you can guess at what they are thinking throughout your discussion. Then hopefully, tailor what you are saying so that you make sure your message hits the mark.

Caution! Reading body language can be fraught with danger


You may have heard of generalizations such as folded arms mean defensiveness. Or, if the other person can't maintain eye contact, it means they are lying. Not always true!

It might just be that the person regularly crosses his or her arm. Or maybe that they are feeling cold.

Or, maybe they don't hold eye contact at any time (it might just be a cultural thing).

To accurately assess someone's body language, you need to have a reasonably good understanding of how they hold themselves (and their tone of voice) most of the time.

With that caution in mind, these types of nonverbal communication hints can be useful to give you some clues that MAYBE things aren't quite what they seem.

To accurately assess someone's body language, you need to have a reasonably good understanding of how they hold themselves (and their tone of voice) most of the time.

With that warning in mind, keep an eye out for some of these types of nonverbal communication cues as you are interacting with others.

Squaring Their Body up to You

Where a person's body is facing is an indicator of interest. This holds true, regardless of whether you're presenting to an individual or a group.

If someone is giving you their full attention and is receptive to you, their shoulders and face are going to be squared up to you.

If you find that their feet and/or body are turned away, this suggests that they would prefer to shift away. That they'd like to leave at the earliest opportunity.

Want them to stick around and keep their attention on you? It might be the time to startle, or surprise them. A skillful public speaker can orchestrate the attention of an entire room.

Trainers and Speakers know that using their headlights is a way of capturing, and/or redirecting, their audiences' focus. This is a useful skill, even if you are only meeting with one or two people.

(Headlights?? The two bumps on the front of your chest - otherwise known as nipples.

Wherever the headlights are facing, is where a person's attention is. So if someone angles their body away from you, take that as a clue that you need to somehow recapture their attention. You could do this by moving across a stage. Or repositioning a pen on a desk. Something to capture your audience's attention and get them shifting their body toward you.

Direct Eye Contact

If someone is interested in you, you will find that not only is he or she is facing you, and they are also making eye contact. 

If you find that their gaze is wandering, grab it by saying something like, "If you direct your eyes here." Then point to a board or demo. Once they've looked wherever you've directed, then you can attempt to gain eye contact again.


Nodding is a sign that they are saying yes to you. The more that you can get them to do this, the better.

A slow nod can be a sign that they are coming along. If they are nodding to everything that you say, you are probably in good shape.

To get them started, have them say 'yes' to something easy, and build from there.

Imagine you are doing a pitch to your manager, for more resources to be directed to your department. You might ask a question that you are almost 100% certain he or she has to say yes to. For example, "Is improving our team's productivity one of your highest priorities?" What manager is going to say no to that question?

Getting them to say the word 'Yes' aloud is best. But a nod is in the right direction.

As well, without being all creepy about it, you nodding can set the person up to start to sync with you. When people are in good rapport, they often start to imitate each other's posture and body movements.

Open Hands

An open, relaxed hand, ideally with you able to see their palms, is an indicator that they are interested in what you have to say. If their hands are closed, this might be a sign that they are withholding.

To get their hands open, try being more expressive with yours. Use more hand gestures and generally loosen up, and chances are they will too.

But of course, don't make yourself look like a windmill!


Smiling is indeed a good sign. But make sure that you are not getting distracted by a false one!

To tell if someone is smiling in earnest, stop and look at their eyes. If a person is faking a smile, you will find that their eyes don't wrinkle at the corners, making the familiar laugh lines. (Mind you in these days of botox - who can tell!) For a bit of fun, take this 'Spot the Fake Smile' test.

If you want to get people to smile at you, remember that you should smile at them as genuinely as possible. Think of something that makes you happy - so that a genuine smile lights up your face. Try to quell any nervousness that you might feel, about whatever you're presenting, and just smile with as much genuine emotion as you can muster. 

If you smile, people will smile back at you. Try this: walk down the street and smile at strangers. Very few - if any - will not at least turn the corners of their lips up - but you will more probably find that many will smile back. They just can't help themselves! It seems we are hardwired to respond to a smile.

Firm Handshake

When you first get a handshake from someone that you are going to be working with, you might be able to guess at a few clues.

For instance, someone who lets go fast is someone who doesn't want to be there. You can maybe take that as an indication that they might be something of a hard sell.

A bone-crunching handshake is a sign that you are going to be dealing with someone who likes to be in charge. So alter your game plan accordingly.

Do Not Attempt To Mind-Read The Other Person

For example, the person starts to go a shade of red in the face. A mind-read you might make is "He is getting angry." Realize this is only your guess. The only observation you can truthfully make is, "This person is going red. Something is going on for him."

It might be okay to assume that maybe he's starting to feel cross and disconnected. Therefore, just in case, you might want to do something that will re-build rapport and connection. It may or may not be needed. But it certainly won't hurt.

In Summary

There are many other types of nonverbal communication clues. But these are probably the easiest, and the ones least likely to get you in a whole bunch of trouble, by interpreting incorrectly.

Understanding and having the skills to work with different personalities is critical to your success as a leader. Make sure you read the article on handling difficult personalities to complement the tips on this page.

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