Only a fraction of our communication is verbal. Most of the messages we give and receive are from body language. Studies say more than half of communication is based on the motion of our arms, our eyes and other movements.
One key is using a well-timed, appropriate touch. A thoughtful handshake or shoulder touch can convey comfort, connection and frankness. It really depends on the nature of the relationship you have with your colleague, and it has to be within the context of and appropriate to the discussion. Also recognize the response of your colleague — he or she will give you a message immediately if it fits within the context of your current conversation.
Also, to build trust, keep your hands in view as much as possible. This actually goes back to human instinct: Hidden hands mean someone could be hiding a harmful tool or weapon. This probably isn’t an issue within your workplace, but it still triggers a classic response from the caveman era. Resist putting your hands in your pocket or behind your back. Some thoughtful, successful leaders have gone as far as wearing clothes with no pockets or sewing their pockets shut to break the habit.
Speaking of arms, the best place to put them is in front of you or on your side. Crossed arms represent stubbornness, which gives the signal you’ve stopped listening — no matter what your words are saying. The person or people you’re talking with will recognize your signal and respond accordingly. Experts say crossed arms are one of the worst communication gaffes, especially in a negotiation or a heated discussion.
Be mindful of the other extreme: Talking with big, flailing arms. Sometimes we get excited and begin making wide gestures (myself included). The problem is you can end up scaring the other party or, worse, hitting them with your wild expression. Pay attention to how much space you usually need to communicate and give yourself appropriate distance from other folks.
Lastly, eye contact may be the most powerful communication tool of all. Looking at someone shows you’re fully present in the conversation and listening carefully to what the person is saying. Eye contact is even more important today as smartphones, smartwatches and other connected devices demand our attention. Maintain good eye contact and you’re already proving to be a stronger communicator than other, more distracted professionals.