Nonverbal signs can offer meaning over and above spoken communication, and often speak louder than words. It’s important to understand what these signs are, and if they could be contributing to conflict.

Being an auditor at times involves being placed in “confrontational” situations—such as delivering findings of non-conformances. In these situations especially, it’s important that what you say is clear and that the message is what you intended. Nonverbal signs can change the message from being something constructive to overly negative.

It’s true that good communication is the foundation of any successful relationship—be it professional or personal. Appropriate use of nonverbal signs (i.e., that your body language matches what you are saying) is a key part of good communication.  People have much less conscious control over their nonverbal signs, partly because this form of communication is more instinctive and emotional in nature. You can even project nonverbal signs without saying a word.  Despite being unintentional, you should consider what signs you project and how these could affect the effectiveness of the overall audit—especially in confrontational situations.

Nonverbal Signs Include:

  • Body movements: hand gestures or head nodding/shaking
  • Posture: how you stand, sit, or if your arms are crossed
  • Eye contact: if you are looking at the person you are speaking to
  • Para-language: pitch, tone, and how fast you talk
  • Closeness: how far away you are from the person
  • Facial expressions: such as smiling, frowning, or blinking
  • Physiological changes: such as sweating or blinking more than usual

Why Nonverbal Signs Matter

The way that you listen, look, move, and react tells the other person whether you care, if you are being truthful, and how well you are listening to what he or she is saying.

When these signs match up with what you are saying, they increase trust, clarity, and rapport. However, when you send confusing or negative nonverbal signs, tension, mistrust, and confusion can be generated. When this happens, both connection and trust can be damaged.

When Things Go Wrong

Often, what comes out of our mouth and what we communicate nonverbally are totally different.

When faced with mixed signals, the listener has to decide whether to believe what you said or your nonverbal signs. In most cases, people trust the nonverbal signs because these are more natural.

On the other extreme—a lack of nonverbal signs is also a concern, and can suggest that the person is carefully controlling his or her body language in an attempt to hide something.

If conflict does arise, it is important to pay close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signs.

This may help you to learn what the other person is really saying, and will help you to respond in a way that builds trust, and eventually get to the cause of the problem.

In these delicate situations, nonverbal signs such as speaking in a calm tone, extending a reassuring touch, or showing a concerned facial expression can go a long way toward defusing a heated exchange.

Tips for Reading Nonverbal Signs

Paying close attention to the nonverbal signs you send and receive is a terrific way to improve your overall communication. It can also help you to make sure that you are sending the right cues.

Here are some tips:

  • Pay attention to inconsistencies: Nonverbal signs should reinforce what is being said. Is the person saying one thing but their body language saying something else?
  • Look at nonverbal signs as a group: Consider all of the nonverbal signs. Are these consistent with what the person is saying?
  • Trust your instincts: If you get the feeling that something isn’t adding up, there may be a mismatch between verbal and nonverbal signs.

Exemplar Global College offers courses to help you to improve your communication skills, including nonverbal signs. To learn more, please click here.