Non-verbal Communication and HR

– Why is non-verbal communication important to HR Pros?

Many of you will know that non-verbal communication is important because it conveys important messages via our body movements, intonations, facial expressions and gestures etc. You might think of watching your body language while presenting but have you ever thought about it strictly in the sense of HR scenarios at work? Or have you ever prepped your managers on non-verbal communication in these situations? What about when you go for a job interview?


An experiment by Forbes and Jackson (1980) observed behaviours of accepted candidates and compared them to applicants who were deemed unsuccessful for the roles on offer. Consequently they discovered that the accepted candidates engaged more in direct eye contact, had more head movements and smiled more than who were unsuccessful. *notes down for next interview*

These posts will hopefully give you some food for thought when considering your own non-verbal communication as a HR Professional and how to interpret other people’s non-verbal cues in the workplace.

Some key stats:

• Non-verbal channels such as facial expression, body movement, and voice tone contribute 93 per cent of the “attitudinal” message to the receiver (Graham, Unruh, & Jennings. 1991).
• Words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38% and body language 55% of whether we like the person.
• Facial expressions are almost eight times as powerful as the words we use (Fletcher. 2000).

Non-verbal communication takes place every time one person interacts with another individual, and it can be intentional or unintentional

Consider a candidate who is nervous for an interview. Unintentionally they may communicate this non-verbally through their body language such as fidgety hands, playing with jewellery or tapping their fingers on the table. The way they sit in the chair throughout the interview may also indicate how comfortable they are and some non-verbal behaviour may even suggest whether they are lying or telling the truth. However, they may not even realise or be conscious of the non-verbal communicative signs they are emitting.

Another scenario is the negotiator in an Industrial Relations environment. In order to be successful during a negotiation it’s crucial that the individual is acutely aware of what they are communicating verbally and that it additionally matches their non-verbal cues. Most notably cues are concerned with the hands and face, and they must be careful not to illustrate their true emotions or intentions in the heat of the moment. Negotiations may be likened to poker, where players intend not to communicate to the others players the cards that they have been dealt, or where they intentionally express a particular emotion in an attempt to fool the other players. Hence, as HR professionals we all need to be able to use our ‘poker face’ in a variety of situations in the workplace.

Interestingly studies (Manusov & J. Scott Rodriguez (1989) suggest that positively labelled non-verbal communication messages are usually interpreted as intentional, whereas negative messages were perceived as unintentional.

Are you aware of what you are communicating non-verbally at work and does it match what you are actually saying?


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