When you think of nonverbal communication, you might think of how a person can stand up straight to communicate confidence or lean forward during a conversation to show engagement. But the definition is actually much, much wider if you ask one expert on the subject.
Joe Navarro spent years as the FBI’s sole nonverbal communications guru tasked with helping recruit spies. Now an executive coach and author, he says how a company and its employees behave greatly affects brand perception.
“The definition of nonverbal is anything that communicates a thought, an idea, a mood, an intention, or a message but is not a word,” he says.
Here are several things he sees businesses and executives often overlooking.
Aesthetics are everything, Navarro asserts, pointing out that people speak volumes through clothing and accoutrements, the cars they drive, and the degree to which they keep facilities neat and orderly, to name just a few examples.
Take a look at executive photos on your website, for a start. Were they done professionally? Would hiring a makeup artist help individuals look better?
“It’s amazing to me how many people become successful very quickly but don’t take the time to assess themselves [in terms of] curbside appeal,” he says.
The Color Blue
There’s a reason President Obama and the CEOs of many major companies hold press conferences in front of a blue curtain.
“Blue has a very soothing effect, but it also is a color of confidence. The research is very clear,” Navarro says. “During presidential debates, candidates will actually fight for which color of blue they want to be in front of.” Perhaps it’s time to buy a new blue shirt.
Consider a receptionist who remains sitting with hands on a keyboard when you approach, versus one who stands to greet you while holding out a hand to shake yours.
“We know from studies when we do things that are considered ‘pro-social,’ we are persuaded by it, we are seduced by it, we’re influenced by it. So if I walk into a bank, and I have to walk all the way to where the manager is, I will feel different about that bank if I walk in and the manager gets up from behind his desk and walks toward me,” Navarro says.
A politician who takes off his jacket communicates he’s a regular guy who wants to get down to work. Similarly, public figures often intentionally wear two-button suits instead three-button varieties.
“The more chest area that you see, the more honest you’re perceived,” Navarro says.
Martin Luther King had publicly spoken about having a dream on more than one occasion, but it wasn’t until he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., that it became symbolic of the civil rights movement.
Another example Navarro points to: Ronald Reagan’s famous oration delivered in front of the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall. “If he had given the ‘Tear Down This Wall’ speech from a hotel room or at a convention center, it wouldn’t have sold,” he says.
Are you and your employees kind, amicable, and respectful to people inside and outside your walls? Smiling, holding a door, or letting someone else go first are all examples of nonverbal behavior that reflect a person’s character.
“[It’s] something people don’t think about,” Navarro says. “We’re impressed by people with good manners, and of course we’re turned off by people who [lack them].”
The Use of Time
The study of time is called chronicity, and how people use it affects others’ perception.
If you do business with people in other parts of the world, it speaks volumes if you’re willing to communicate with them during their workday instead of your own, Navarro suggests.
How things feel also counts as nonverbal communication.
“We know that a resumé on 24-pound paper gets a better review than the same resumé on 20-pound paper,” he says. “Think about how many business cards or brochures we’ve handed out. The weight of it has significance.”