Many of us don’t realize how little our words say. We miss how all the other nonverbal details of our communication actually matter far more.
Both offline and online, our way of presenting ourselves to other people says far more than what we actually say when we do the presenting.
What does it matter? Well as a community builder, you’d probably agree that communication is pretty important. Right?
It turns out only 7% of our communication happens with the words we use. The rest is our tone of voice, facial expressions, posture, gestures, and so forth. “It’s about how small things that we do affect the environment around us and affect the people around us,” Joe says.
Joe Navarro is the world’s leading expert on nonverbal communication. He’s authored twelve books on the subject and worked for over 25 years as a special agent with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program, where his job was to detect deception, discover spies, and read people. Since then, he has launched online courses, written bestselling books like What Every BODY Is Saying, and works as a nonverbal communication consultant with Fortune 500 companies and the intelligence community.
Since Joe spoke at CMX Summit, more than 1 million people have viewed his YouTube talk. As more of our connections shift to virtual, it’s more important than ever to understand how our body language affects our communication.
Below, Joe shares his top tips for improving your nonverbal communication. Apply these in meetings, at community events, or in everyday life to change how you engage with people and promote more openness and acceptance.
1. Don’t sit directly across from someone.
Joe explains that sitting directly across from someone is the worst way to build a sense of belonging and openness. This puts you in a combative stance, as if you’re readying for battle.
“The worst way to communicate is to sit across from each other. If you can, sit in a round table configuration. A small round table contributes to people feeling more cozy and open to one another.”
“The other alternative usually at home is a couch and loveseat at 90 degrees. If you ever wonder why so much gets done at Camp David as opposed to the White House, it’s because these world leaders can sit very comfortably and talk.”
2. Go with blue, not yellow.
This goes for online as well as offline nonverbal communication. The colors you wear to meetings and events matter. The color of your community landing page really matters.
“Something so simple as having the color blue in your webpage will guarantee that people will spend more time on it than a webpage that is yellow.” Seems a bit odd, but then think about it: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. All blue. What is the primary color of your site? Do you need to rethink it?
“In nature, think about how many things are poisonous that have the color yellow. There’s a part of our brain that says stay away from yellow, even if it’s a webpage,” Joe tells us. Yellow is often perceived as a threat, and our primal brain hasn’t gotten past that yet.
3. Watch your feet.
According to Joe, your feet say a whole lot more about you than your eyes ever can. You don’t realize that the signal to others to get near to you and to let you in is actually in your feet.
“The most accurate part of your body is your feet, not your face. The reason for that is that your face has social obligations, but your feet don’t. Your feet are responsible for your safety. You can put on a fake smile if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, but your feet may be poised to run away.”
Make sure that your feet are pointed toward someone if you want to establish rapport and trust. If they’re pointed in any other direction, it’s a slight hint that you’re disinterested, wary, or uncomfortable.
4. Change your feet to a “V” shape.
Joe gets even more specific about exactly what you can do with your feet to communicate openness — and also tell if the person you’re talking to is not quite comfortable.
“If you smile at someone but your feet don’t move, you’re actually excluding people and making them feel left out. To be more welcome, turn your feet toward them. Change them to be a ‘V’ shape to communicate that you’re receptive to the person in front of you.”
5. Don’t wear a jacket that completely covers your chest.
This goes for men as well as women: don’t look like you have something to hide.
Joe uses the example of politicians during election season. Look close and you’ll notice that “candidates will wear suits where the buttons go really low. They’ll wear a suit that has two buttons instead of three. It’s about transparency. Those three and a half inches matter.”
6. Watch what you’re wearing.
Again, clothes do more talking than you think. What you’re wearing really matters. “It’s the difference between wearing a tuxedo and wearing shorts. It affects the way that people perceive you.”
This is a delicate balance in the startup world, where CEOs where hoodies and jeans every day. You want to fit in, but look neat. When you meet community members especially, take care of yourself. It will assure them that they can trust you.
7. Sign off messages and letters with “Cheers!”
Joe has run workshops and given talks in 87 countries and counting. He will often ask how people like to receive sign-offs in their letters and emails.
Between “sincerely,” “take care,” and “cheers,” everyone agrees that they’d rather see an email signed off with “cheers” more than any other option. So what’s stopping you from writing a simple ‘Cheers!’?
This may seem like a point related to verbal communication. It is, in fact, related to word choice. But the point here is that picking friendly words, adding exclamation points (in moderation), or keeping things conversational with your word choice will open the door to more friendly communication overall.
“Choose words that are more endearing, and you’ll make people feel welcome,” Joe tells us.
8. Take the time to convey what you really mean with the words you do choose.
“The primary means by which we communicate is non-verbally,” says Joe. But that doesn’t mean that in our replies and writing, we can’t be more mindful of the turns of phrase we use, the curtness of our messages, etc.
“Instead of saying ‘got it,’ say ‘I’ve read everything you’ve said and it makes sense to me.'”
9. Use touch mindfully.
“Studies have shown that people who touch have a greater chance of getting a loan at a bank.” Within reason, a warm arm touch or even a hug in the right situation goes a long way. Why do you think Lyft’s fist bumps were so successful in getting their drivers and riders so deeply engaged from the get-go?
“It’s simply chemical. The more we touch, the more we release the chemical oxytocin. That’s the bonding chemical that bonds us to other people. What works for the baby works for the adult.”
10. Do the eyebrow flash.
Small things like putting your head to the side and moving your eyebrows will make a huge difference in acknowledging another’s presence.
“When you meet and greet people for the first time, do the eyebrow flash,” Joe says. Imagine lifting your eyebrows in excitement as you say hello.
“You’re saying hello but you’re making it even more important and more excited than usual.”
Start changing these small behaviors and watch how people approach you and engage with you differently. Joe Navarro will share countless other tips and tricks in his talk at CMX Summit this coming May.