Eye rolls, raised eyebrows and frowns speak so much louder than words. People can really get their panties in a wad over those and many other gestures in the workplace. Body language is such a huge part of communication that it pays to understand its uses and ramifications. While it can certainly cause tension in the office, overt actions and subtle body language can work to your advantage too. It can be used to create positive reinforcement just as easily as negative.
Leaders rely heavily on nonverbal communication to get workers to do what they want. With smiles of encouragement, a nod of approval or a thumbs-up atta-girl, the boss can build a loyal base of supporters to run things her way. Leaders know how to use voice inflection to accentuate important matters and that looking someone directly in the eyes adds to the seriousness of a conversation. Enthusiasm is contagious, and leaders who successfully walk with confidence, talk while making big hand gestures and step lively through the trenches can inject the workforce with that same enthusiasm.
It’s not always body language that gets workers to trust each other and management. Showing up on time to work every day shows your fellow workers that you can be counted on. Reaching for the extra report or picking up a broom when clients are expected -- even though it’s not your job -- speaks volumes about your commitment to the team. People watch each other at work, and no amount of boasting or grandstanding will build trust like good old-fashioned chipping in. People judge you by what you do, not what you say.
You can set the tone for an entire day by changing the pitch of your voice, especially if you're a team leader or a manager. A high, shrill tone of voice puts everyone on edge and can lead to anxiety among the workers, especially when they don’t know what all the tension is about. Conversely, a calming, even tone of voice, with the hint of a smile in it can put the workforce at ease and reduce stress so everyone works more efficiently and mistakes and accidents don’t happen as often.
How you dress plays a significant role in the nonverbal messages you send. Sloppy dressing gives the impression that you don’t really care about the job or what people think of you. While this kind of nonchalance may not be important in your viewpoint, it's rarely appreciated in the workplace. When colleagues show up neat and clean every day, it sends a positive message that what you do there is important. This is why many companies enforce dress codes, so employees will show at least by their appearance that they respect their workplace and co-workers.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."