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This is part of a series looking at microskills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

How well do you manage your non-verbal communications?

Non-verbal communication is the art of paying attention not only to spoken words but also to all other levels of communication, such as tone and body language, and their impact on others. There's a well-known, non-verbal communication rule called the 7/38/55/ rule. It suggests that 7 per cent of the meaning of a communication comes from the words, 38 per cent is based on how the words are expressed, and 55 per cent is expressed by body language. Based on this rule, understanding the impact of non-verbal communications when communicating with employees is critical in order to be effective.

This microskill provides leaders a framework that they can use to monitor and manage their nonverbal communicating skills.

Leaders who have not been trained in non-verbal communication are at risk of having communication gaps that can be a barrier to effective conversations. Leaders with both humility and integrity are open and care how their communication style can impact employees.


Three elements of non-verbal communications impact the communications experience. Each can influence how words expressed in a conversation are received, as well as the overall communications experience. Evaluate how effective you believe you are in each of the three elements on a scale one (low) to 10 (high).

· Kinesics represents non-verbal communication, the body language used when speaking and listening. This type of communication is the unconscious and conscious translation of moods, feelings and thinking. The adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words," is similar to body language. When words and body language are not aligned, it can create distraction, distrust and stress.

Consider the example of Sam having a conversation with his boss. When Sam speaks, his boss has minimal to no facial expressions. His arms are crossed across his chest, his body is turned away from Sam, he doesn't make eye contant, and he checks his e-mail several times. Sam leaves the conversation feeling as if his boss had no interest in what he had to say. Most employees want to feel they are being heard and respected when they speak to their manager. The key insight is that even when a leader is not speaking his body is always talking.

· Paraverbals are what a person does to the spoken word. Paraverbals focus on how you say the words with respect to the volume, pitch, rate of speech and tone. Yelling the phrase, "I'm not upset," is incongruent. If you speak in a monotone you may be perceived as uninterested, compared to a person who changes their pitch when speaking.

· Proxemics refers to the space between two people communicating. Each person has their own level of comfort and no two people are the same. Following are the average zones: intimate zone: 2 feet; personal zone: 3 to 4 feet; social zone: 4 to 12 feet; public zone: beyond 12 feet.

Business communication, for the most part, happen within the social zone. If a manager moves into an employee's personal space this can be stressful and distracting.


This is understanding that as a leader, your non-verbal communication can impact employees both positively and negatively. Do you think your employees could benefit if you improved your non-verbal communication awareness and skills? If so, then the next step is to take action.


Improving non-verbals in each of the three elements requires awareness and commitment. To develop this microskill, pick from the following: feedback, training and daily practice.

Obtaining feedback from employees and peers on your communication style through a 360-degree feedback exercise can provide constructive criticism on how to improve. Another option is to take a course that covers non-verbal communication. You can also do some self-study using resources easily obtained through the Internet, YouTube and Amazon on non-verbal communication. Mastering this skill requires daily practice to ensure employees receive your words the way they were intended.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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