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The art of non-verbal communication



Virginie Graziani

Talent Management & Synergologist

26 September 2023

Reading Time: 5 minutes


Communication is everything we express from head to toe, whether it’s our speech or our body language. Our bodies speak naturally and provide keys to understanding the emotions and intentions of the person we are talking to, as well as facilitating the relationship. Our gestures constantly reflect who we are and what we feel: the conscious and unconscious movements of our body are clues to our personality.


All our communication channels


Semiologists are well aware that communication is always “multi-channel”. This means that we always use several channels to get a message across. The most obvious, and the loudest, is of course the verbal channel with the content of our utterances.

However, our communication involves other forms of language: posture, gestures and so on. While some of these elements are unconscious (we do not control the dilation of our pupils), others have the conscious aim of producing meaning (our hands draw in the air to illustrate what we are saying).

We might think that when we are in a listening posture, we are a silent transmitter. In fact, our bodies also send signals to the other person: a friendly smile, a forward tilt of the chest to show interest, etc. So how much of our communication is verbal?

According to psychology researcher Albert Mehrabian, only 7% of what we express actually comes through speech. The rest is based on the intonation of our voice (38%) and our body (55%). It is therefore essential to take an interest in this incredibly vast body language.


Emotions and smiles to share


But things get complicated when culture gets involved. Certain gestures seem universal. However, we can observe cultural differences. Some bodily expressions are innate, while others are acquired.

According to psychology researcher Paul Eckman, there are seven universal emotions: joy, sadness, anger, disgust, fear, surprise and contempt. We also share certain expressions, such as smiling or crying.

In all cultures, emotions are expressed in the same way, with varying degrees of openness. To avoid making a mistake, smiling can be used all over the world as a universal sign of openness, benevolence and sympathy.

The open, friendly face that comes with smiling defuses tension and creates sympathy. So, in any non-verbal communication situation, don’t hesitate to use this formidable tool to calm any potentially hostile situation.


Appearance: a mirror held up to others?


We are judged on our physical appearance. Contrary to what we might think, this is not only based on our relative aesthetic beauty, the criteria for which vary from culture to culture. Our body communicates through our posture, our gait, our look and so on.

Our appearance can make us seem casual or unkempt. Dressing up, putting on make-up and choosing an accessory all speak about us. For example, whatever the culture, jewellery and ornaments reveal a desire to please but also to assert oneself (to assert one’s desire to be seen and recognised).

Various studies have shown that people are more inclined to trust someone who looks like them. This is the mirror effect discovered in psychology. So we always advise candidates to present themselves neutrally. In the company, it’s a question of observing dress codes to get closer to them.

The most important thing is that the person you are interviewing should be able to recognise themselves in you. Sobriety is therefore preferable in an initial communication situation with a view to openness. Adopting the codes implicit in your environment helps you to avoid rushing your interviewers.


Discover your inner superhero


We can’t always control our body language. In fact, there are many elements over which we have no control. As a result, they communicate in spite of us. However, it is interesting to note that our mind and body are linked in our communication.

An external element acts on us like a detonator. A rise in cortisol causes stress. We are attracted to someone, and our pheromones go into overdrive. There’s no shortage of examples of this. What’s more, our interlocutors perceive these biochemical variations, thanks to various sensory sensors.

Fear and attraction have a smell, even if it is perceived at a subconscious level. This is another reason why our emotions are difficult to mask and why they are perceived universally. All human beings have the same sensors.

Psychologist Amy Cuddy has shown that by adopting a conquering posture for several minutes before a stressful event (exam, interview, etc.), we can influence our hormone production. In concrete terms, posing like a superhero lowers cortisol and increases testosterone.

So everything we say is a way of expressing ourselves. So our speech is only a small part of our communication. Non-verbal language is more instinctive and therefore not always controllable. This part of the unconscious has been revealed over the last few years as appearance (particularly selfies on social networks) has become predominant in our environment in developed countries.


In conclusion, non-verbal communication is much more important than we think. In fact, many aspects of our communication are affected. Your body cannot lie. Naturally, it transmits your thoughts and feelings in its own language, which other people’s bodies understand perfectly well. The slightest contradiction in this language can undermine your communication. However, your state of mind influences your body language so that you can shine.


The secrets of body language


Mistakes in recruitment, management and negotiation are costly. On a daily basis, your colleagues, managers, peers and leaders are also trying to decipher your intentions and emotions through your verbal and non-verbal cues. Know how you are perceived by your professional environment, whether it is at the first meeting or every time you arrive in a colleague’s office.

Do you want to stop misjudging an individual? Do you need to better identify risks in others? You’ve come to the right place.

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