nonverbal communication influence

We often use our words to influence others, but how does nonverbal communication convey meaning in regards to influence?

A recent study reveals that 75% of emotional meaning is carried via nonverbal channels. In fact, when the nonverbal and verbal channels send contradictory messages, people assign more weight to nonverbal cues.

The European Journal of Social Psychology reports on an experiment where subjects were asked to rate videotapes of a performer reading friendly, neutral and hostile messages in a friendly, neutral or hostile nonverbal style. These messages and nonverbal styles had previously been presented independently to a separate group of subjects for rating. These separately presented subjects rated the verbal message and the nonverbal styles, ascribing them an individual score. The second set of subjects were presented a combination of verbal (messages) and nonverbal (styles), some matching and some disparate. The results of the experiments indicate that nonverbal cues had a greater effect on ratings made on 7-point scales, such as hostile-friendly, than verbal cues. The results showed a 1.67:1 ratio weighted toward the nonverbal having dominance.

From this study and others, we learn how important the nonverbal element of any conversation is effectively influencing others.

We use nonverbal communication to shape impressions of ourselves (enhancing our credibility or perceived status), to establish rapport, to facilitate attention, to model behavior (social proof such as putting on a seatbelt), to signal expectations (such as indicating which direction we are going to take) and to violate the expectation of others (standing in someone’s personal space).

Make Eye Contact

Great eye contact conveys interest and attention, attraction, likability,warmth and immediacy. It typically enhances persuasion. “Gaze produced greater compliance than gaze aversion in every one of the 12 studies” (Segrin, 1993).

Dominance and submission also show a direct correlation to who maintains gaze longest, with those averting their gaze being more submissive.

Social scientists have noted that the most effective panhandlers (in terms of money made) make eye contact first with those from which they seek donations.

Tip: Be conscious of how well you look into people’s eyes when you speak.

Be Respectful, But Take Up Space

Key influencers command more space than lesser influencers; not only in regards to the proverbial corner office, but also in how much personal space they command.  Certain postures communicate emotion, and research shows that even people born blind raise their arms in a V shape and lift their chins slightly when they win a physical competition.

But also be aware of what sociologists call proxemics - the relationship of the individual and their surround space.  While culturally variant, generally speaking, the spaces are divided into the following:

1) Intimate Zone (from 6 to 18 inches): This is the zone a person guards as individual property. Only a romantic partner, close friends and relatives are allowed to enter in it.

2) Personal Zone (from 18 to 48 inches): This is the distance we keep from others during friendly interactions, social gatherings or parties.

3) Public Zone (from 4 to 12 feet): This is the distance we keep from strangers or persons with little acquaintance.

4) Social Zone (above 12 feet): This is the comfortable distance we maintain while  interacting or addressing a large group of people.

Tip: The Business Insider reports that certain power poses exist, which can affect influence. These include standing open or stretching the arms.  Power posing produces significant and immediate changes in your body's chemistry. After just two minutes in a high-power pose, your testosterone levels - the "dominance" hormone - can skyrocket 20%.

Show a Genuine Smile

Smiling is a response behavior. Smiling conveys warmth, attraction, and sincerity.  

Food servers who smile receive larger tips, and job applicants who smile are rated more favorably.

But don’t fake a smile. Fake smiles are created through the use of a single muscle that connects to the corners of the mouth; meanwhile, genuine smiles also involve the orbicularis oculi, a muscle that surrounds the eyeball (source:

Use Hand Gestures

When people are passionate about what they’re saying, their gestures automatically become more animated. Wooden, movement-lacking speaking conveys the speaker has no emotional investment in the issues. A famous example of this type of speaker is Al Gore.  During his presidential campaign, 65% of poll responders stated Gore's "stiffness" is a problem for his campaign. Also, 64% in another poll called him boring. (source: The Washington Post)

Gestures exemplify and illustrate. Gestures can transform dull verbal communication into more interesting conversations. They can help keep people’s eyes from glazing over. Gesturing also controls the pace of exchange. They can also convey messages or information with greater effect, accuracy and speed that cannot be achieved by words easily.

Tip: Don’t put your hands into pockets or hold them behind your back; do utilize them for meaningful, open-palmed gestures as they help others to be engaged and to trust you.

Master Communication Matching for Improved Influence

It is important to match the tone, pitch and speed of your speaking delivery with your nonverbal communication. Incongruence between the two creates a sense of confusion among your hearers as they try to assess which communication to believe - the seen or the heard.

Tip: While you never want your nonverbal communication to be contrived, you can watch video replays of your presentations.

Ask yourself:

1. What is my body saying?

2. Is it matching the content of my speech?

3. Is it enhancing or distracting?

4. Am I too wooden, which may lead to boredom, or too overly-dramatic, which may lead to distrust?

You CAN succeed in improving your nonverbal communication to grow your influence. Practice while being genuine. Don’t shift into “preacher mode” (as one of my friends calls it), which is when a quiet person is suddenly yelling and overtly gesturing.  Be yourself, but be your BEST self.


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina