8 types of nonverbal communication at work (with examples)

Updated 12 January 2023

There are many types and styles of communication that you use to interact with your co-workers and supervisors, including nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication is the process of expressing yourself with gestures and facial expressions or changing the tone of your voice, which can help you emphasise or change the meaning of what you say with words. Understanding different types of nonverbal communication can allow you to influence how others see you and build stronger relationships at work. In this article, we explore eight types of nonverbal communication, and provide five steps to improve your nonverbal communication skills.

Types of nonverbal communication

Here are eight different types of nonverbal communication and how people use them in the workplace:

1. Facial expressions

Facial expressions are an essential element of nonverbal communication that can reveal your thoughts and feelings. This type of nonverbal communication is typically so strong that it can even impact the meaning of words that you say. For example, raising your eyebrows while asking someone how they're doing at their new job can be a sign of concern and genuine interest, but asking the same question with a relaxed and emotionless face may signify that you're just engaging in small talk. Similarly, you may watch other people's faces to see what they truly think about your ideas or opinions.

Related: What is face-to-face communication and why is it important?

2. Kinesics

Kinesics, also called body movements, can help you better express your emotions and opinions while you speak. They typically include nodding or gestures that you do with your hands. It's also possible to guess how you're feeling about someone by looking at the way you stand when talking with them. For example, if you position your feet so they're pointing towards someone, it often means you're interested in them or what they have to share.

Certain body movements are involuntary, but it's also possible to use them to show certain emotions. For example, although using too many gestures can be distracting when you're giving a presentation, the same gestures can express excitement if you're in a private setting with friends. Knowing how to effectively use body movements to emphasise a message or show confidence is important when you're trying to impress someone during a meeting or a job interview.

Related: What is body language? A complete professional guide

3. Proximity

Your personal space and how physically close you are to the person you're talking to is also a form of nonverbal communication that says a lot about how you feel. It's common for people to keep their space in a professional setting. In other words, the more you know someone, the closer you typically stand when interacting with them. Proximity is often a culture-specific concept. This means that in some cultures, such as those from Northern Europe, people prefer to keep a bigger distance than in the south of Europe, where people tend to be more expressive in general.

4. Eye contact

Maintaining or avoiding eye contact in a conversation says a lot about your intentions and can show if you're honest when sharing your thoughts. For example, maintaining passive eye contact with an interviewer can help you come off as a confident and prepared candidate who's committed to getting the job. If the person you're talking to is looking away, it's often a sign that they're distracted or uneasy. In such a situation, you may consider paying attention to other types of nonverbal communication that they're expressing to better understand them or offer your help and support if they're anxious.

Related: How to use body language in the workplace (with FAQs)

5. Posture

The way you hold your body in a professional setting can make an impression on those around you or even help your client negotiations to go well. When you stand with your head high and your back straight, you're nonverbally communicating assurance, strength and confidence. Avoiding a slouched position can help you show your expertise and even boost your confidence. Be sure to remember about uncrossing your arms when you talk to someone to express a friendly and open demeanour.

Related: A comprehensive guide to workplace communication styles

6. Physical touch

Physical touch is a key element of nonverbal communication that allows you to express emotion and show someone that you care about them. The most common example of physical touch in a professional setting is a handshake. It's important to understand that most touch gestures are best kept for your personal relationships. For example, if you have close friendships with colleagues, then hugging on social occasions is fine, but best not to hug somebody in the office. Ensuring that your touch is always professional in the workplace is a sign that you understand, accept and respect other people's boundaries.

Related: Key attributes of professionalism in the workplace

7. Paralanguage

Paralanguage, or vocalics, includes the way you speak, such as your tone of voice, volume or pitch. This type of communication allows you to express emotions by changing your voice. Understanding how paralanguage works is important because it allows you to change your voice depending on the situation. For example, when your team is attending a presentation during which you want to ask your colleague about something, whisper the question in their ear, so you don't interrupt the person who's presenting. Similarly, you may want to raise your voice a bit to show enthusiasm.

Related: What is tone of voice in communication? (With definition)

8. Physiology

Physiology is a type of nonverbal communication that gives away how you feel during social situations in the workplace. The way your body reacts can signify how comfortable or distressed you are. Common physiological changes that you can observe in yourself and others include blushing, sweating or tearing up. Although you may have a chance of impacting how your body reacts to certain situations, for example, by preparing for important meetings and improving your confidence during public speaking, most people find it hard to control it.

What is nonverbal communication?

Nonverbal communication is the process of sending and receiving a message without using words. It involves everything from facial expressions and the tone of your voice to the way you stand or how your body involuntarily reacts in certain situations. Nonverbal communication can be an important workplace and recruitment tool that allows you to build and maintain healthier professional relationships and better express your thoughts.

Knowing how to use different types of verbal communication is essential to making a lasting first impression on the hiring manager and better presenting yourself. It's also important to understand how this type of communication can affect the way you interact with your co-workers and members of your leadership team. This is because what you communicate with words could differ from what you communicate in other ways.

Related: Nonverbal communication skills: definition and examples

How to improve your nonverbal communication skills

Here are five important steps that can help you successfully improve your nonverbal communication skills:

1. Evaluate how you feel

Identifying how your physical feelings correlate to your emotions can help you better understand yourself. As a result, you may be able to react more positively to different situations in the workplace. This step is also important in allowing you to work on controlling how your body reacts when you perform different tasks.

2. Perform a body language test

Improving your nonverbal communication skills may involve paying attention to how you hold your body during your workday. By doing this, you can evaluate your posture, gestures or facial expressions. You may also pay attention to how your co-workers react to your body language.

Related: Body language in an interview: importance and tips

3. Be intentional

Remember that your gestures and body language support your verbal communication. Using body language that's appropriate to what you're saying may help you come off as decisive and self-aware, allowing you to emphasise a message. Being intentional about your facial expressions and the way you hold your body can even help you influence the impact of a situation.

4. Learn from others

Typically, people with strong nonverbal communication skills find it easier to be convincing at work and their co-workers see them as charismatic and reliable. If someone you regularly interact with communicates well nonverbally, you can observe what they do and learn from them. After working on your skills for a while, you may even consider mirroring other people's gestures in a subtle way during a conversation. Mirroring is a technique that makes you appear more relatable to the people you're talking to.

Related: Positive body language and gestures that put people at ease

5. Ask questions

If you're unsure about someone's gestures and other elements of their nonverbal communication, you can simply ask them to explain what they mean verbally. This way, you can get an interpretation of their signals. Similarly, if you notice that someone doesn't fully understand your body language, consider clarifying the situation and explaining your thoughts and feelings to them with words.


  • 4 types of communication (With examples)

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