“The most important part of communication is hearing what isn’t said”. – Peter Drucker

Although verbal communication is important, spoken words make up only a small part of communication. The majority of communication is nonverbal. In fact, some research has shown that up to 93% of communication is nonverbal! The amount of communication that is nonverbal shows why it is so important to pay close attention to people’s actions as well as their words.

So how do people communicate non-verbally? Nonverbal communication is made up primarily of facial expressions and body language. Understanding these nonverbal cues helps to fully understand what the speaker is saying. Mastering nonverbal communication will enable you to be a better communicator as you get a better understanding of the nonverbal cues you and the people you communicate with are sending.


Reading nonverbal cues. Nonverbal communication makes up a large part of what people are saying to you. If you don’t understand nonverbal communication, you will miss out on part of the message. Nonverbal cues can tell you how people feel, if they are telling the truth, and whether or not they are paying attention.

So what are nonverbal cues and how can you identify them? Here is a list of common nonverbal cues that can tell you a lot about what a person is saying:

  • Eye contact
  • Pace or speed of speech
  • Crossed arms or legs
  • Posture, or body position
  • Facial expressions

Now that you know some nonverbal cues to watch for, you can start looking at what they might mean. When reading nonverbal communication, pay attention to differences between what the people are saying and what they are doing.


Sending nonverbal cues. Just as you try to read nonverbal cues given by other people, people are trying to read the nonverbal cues you send. When your words don’t match up with your facial expressions, body language, and posture, people will notice. They might not actually think, “This person’s nonverbal communication doesn’t match their words,” but they will experience feelings of mistrust, uncertainty, and confusion when talking to you.

It’s hard to control your nonverbal cues. That’s because we do them without really thinking. While we can think about our words and control what we say, nonverbal communication happens automatically. One way to avoid sending confusing or uncomfortable nonverbal cues is to always tell the truth. When you’re telling the truth, your nonverbal cues will naturally match up with your words. When you tell the truth, you actually believe the words you’re saying, so your actions don’t show some other emotion or feeling.

Consider personality differences. The rules of nonverbal communication are not always black and white. This means there are no set rules that tell you what each nonverbal cue means. Everyone is different, and these personality differences should be considered when trying to understand nonverbal cues. For example, people who have a more serious personality may not smile or laugh to show that they are happy. That doesn’t mean they’re angry or sad, it’s just the way their personality influences their communication.


Consider the situation. Just as different personalities can affect nonverbal communication, different situations can also affect the nonverbal cues people send. For example, a stressful situation might cause someone to speak faster. In a normal situation, this might be a sign that a person feels nervous or is trying to hide something. However, given the stressful situation, the person might just be talking faster because of stress.Always think about the situation before making any conclusions about a person’s nonverbal message. Think about things that could be causing a person to feel and act a certain way and take that into account when reading nonverbal cues.

Observe people. Reading nonverbal communication is a skill that takes time to learn. You can improve your ability to read nonverbal communication by observing or paying attention to people as they talk. Start by simply watching for nonverbal cues without trying to read into them, or draw conclusions. As you get more comfortable spotting these cues you can start to think about what the person is trying to tell you without actually saying it.

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