Nonverbal Behavior in the Workplace

by Linda Ray

Body language and other nonverbal behaviors usually speak louder than words, according to, a heath information website, and can make or break the foundation of your business relationships. The character and effectiveness of nonverbal behaviors in the workplace can have a significant impact, for better or for worse, on the business and its employees.


Nonverbal behavior, or body language, can have a tremendous impact on the overall mood of a workplace, which in turn deeply affects productivity. Imagine a boardroom meeting in which everyone is slouched over and half asleep -- the meeting leader will conclude that her staff is not interested in the topic at hand. In a restaurant where the host, waiters and cooks all looked irritated and unwelcoming, patrons would pick up on the vibes and likely not return. Workplaces where enthusiasm, friendliness, goodwill and initiative are communicated through nonverbal cues are likely to be more successful. If not by pleasing customers directly or supporting the team leaders, then by encouraging an atmosphere of genuine interest, creative energy and initiative that characterizes healthy workplaces.


No matter what the setting is, nonverbal cues make an impression on clients. Attention, as indicated through signals like an upright posture, an alert facial expression and appropriate eye contact, is crucial. No clients want to do business with a person or organization that doesn't seem to be paying attention to their needs. Consistency between words and nonverbal cues builds trust. A firm handshake, a welcoming smile and solid eye contact make for a far better impression than a weak handshake, a devious grin and downcast eyes. These types of interactions can sharply affect the client's perception, which translates into sales and repeat business.


Nonverbal behavior can also indicate and clarify different employee roles and plays a part in how relationships develop in the workplace, according to management consultants PrMC. For example, while a restaurant manager might have her hands on her hips, broadly surveying the dining room, a line cook or busboy would be out of place taking this stance, which in that case could indicate insubordination. Bosses often rely on body language to command attention, let employees know they need to pick up the pace or get back to work. A look, a hand gesture or even a walk through the office can relay the boss’s intentions loudly without having to yell at or embarrass workers. The front-line workers, on the other hand, have less of a need to command attention since they only have to attend to their own tasks. This function of body language is helpful, since businesses are much more efficient when roles are clearly understood.


Teamwork and collaboration improve with effective nonverbal communication. For example, in a busy, fancy restaurant, it is probably not appropriate to yell across the dining room to get the attention of a co-worker. However, walking all the way across the room might be too time-consuming during busy hours. A tilt of the waiter’s head to a dirty table lets the busboy know where he’s needed; giving the manager a harried expression can let her know you need help. Nonverbal behavior also can be contagious, as one employee’s enthusiasm for a project is picked up by the team. Conversely, body language that signals discontent also can be contagious.

About the Author

Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."

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