Nonverbal communication: Why it’s such a hot training topic
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Nonverbal communication: Why it’s such a hot training topic

Over the past year, the demand for training in nonverbal communication has nearly tripled, according to the latest annual report by the online learning company Udemy. The report compares consumption of its courses between July 2021-June 2022 with course use in the previous 12 months. Enrollment in nonverbal communication training shot up by 268%, Udemy said.

Why is this? It’s an understatement to say that organizations have had to navigate a monumental shift over the past few years. Our hybrid-workforce hangover from the pandemic has kicked the door wide open for miscommunication. Workforces who once spent all day together in office, now touch base only  periodically on video calls. Reduced face-to-face meetings has shifted the interpersonal and group communication norms we’re accustomed to. It’s just harder to pick up on critical non-verbal cues we need to communicate effectively when we’re not together.

Replace, reinforce, contradict

The research lists facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, gaze — also known as eye contact — and touch as some of the main vectors of nonverbal communication (although in the current workplace context, touch can be problematic).

These communication signals are important in different ways at different times, as pointed out in an article on the website of Officevibe, an online employee collaboration platform. Nonverbal communication may replace or reinforce verbal communication. In some instances, it may contradict verbal communication, creating mixed messages and confusion.

What they need to know

Here are five topics that could be included in your training programs on non-verbal communication:

  • Understanding posture — what are people saying by the way they sit or stand?
  • Using  eye contact — this is a critical for both on-camera and off communication.
  • Interpreting tone of voice — how someone says something is often as important as what they say.
  • Making sense of gestures —  people say a lot with their hands and arms when they speak.
  • Reading facial expressions — grimaces, smiles — even stone faces — may all indicate different emotional states.

Managed well, nonverbal communication can help you give and receive useful information about your emotional state and that of your workmates. Managed poorly, nonverbal communication can lead to misunderstanding and even conflict. That’s why it may be worth your while to make it a training topic for your workplace.

This post is based in part on the following research article: Hess, U. (2016) Nonverbal Communication. In: Howard S. Friedman (Editor in Chief), Encyclopedia of Mental Health, 2nd edition, Vol 3, Waltham, MA: Academic Press, pp. 208-218.


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