We’re used to reading body language and silent cues in person. With remote work, subtle ways we communicate are changing – and workers need to know how to adapt.
For the most part, our learned social skills mean most of us have some level of fluency in interpreting others’ non-verbal communication; it also means we know how to tacitly communicate ourselves. Think about, say, your inherent knowledge to smile when greeting a client, make eye contact in conversation and hold confident body language during an interview.
“If you want to influence people in a positive way, then your attitude and how you are perceived using non-verbal communication is very important,” says Mi Ridell, an expert in body language based in Stockholm, Sweden. Annemieke Meurs-Karels, a non-verbal communication expert based in the Netherlands, says people often react more to what you do than what you say, “because it communicates the underlying message – what you really think and feel, and your intentions”.
However, while we’ve been trained on the importance of non-verbal cues in person, in the digital workspace, this kind of communication can seem less important. Many work conversations now happen via online chats, and even video meetings can go ahead with cameras off. Yet, even when remote work doesn’t seem to include tacit cues, non-verbal communication is still happening. Take that switched-off camera, for instance: a 2022 survey of 200 executives showed that 92% of managers believed that employees who turned off their cameras during meetings were less likely to have a long-term future at their company.
Non-verbal communication is a two-fold concept.
Part of the equation is how others perceive you, and the other component is how you understand others through their own non-verbal messages. It is not an exact science, since there’s plenty of ambiguity in how you might interpret someone’s signal versus how another person might, says Meurs-Karels; it often depends on your own experiences and relationship to the communicator. The same can happen to you when you’re the communicator, of course.
Yet, despite these subjective discrepancies, the experts says non-verbal cues carry a lot of meaning for both parties – and it’s important to pay attention to them in any work environment, whether in-person or remote.
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