Verbal or Non-Verbal: First Impressions Count
Universities and all other tertiary institutions never fail to equip their students with ‘interview’ skills. In these classes, students learn what questions to anticipate during an interview and how to answer them in a safe and ‘interesting’ manner. Ironic but true.
Yet what many organizations fail to acknowledge is that interviews are as unconventional in formats as they are in their questions. In fact, interviews today have more to do with the non-verbal than with the verbal responses. It is estimated that the outcome of an interview is dependent 55 to 70% on non-verbal communication while only 10% of the outcome is based on the content transpired during an interview.
Beyond the interview- sleek or slick?
The importance of non-verbal gestures is not merely limited to interviews. Meetings, presentations, conferences and gala dinners, to name a few, are also shifting towards emphasis on the sleekness and smartness of it all. Whether it regarded as the glamorous ‘Finishing Touch’ or the infamous ‘First Impression’, non-verbal gestures have the potential to make or break almost anything in a corporate setting.
Non-verbal communication is not a new phenomenon but it is revolutionary nonetheless. The problem is not with the theory of non-verbal communication itself but with the manner in which it has come to be defined. The traditional definition is limited to posture, dressing, facial expressions and gestures; it goes a little beyond these four traits. Yet, believe it or not, there are non-verbal elements in everything from, speech to written words. In the case of speech, these elements are voice quality, rate and volume, speaking style, pitch, rhythm, intonation and stress. In written documents, it includes writing styles, spatial arrangement of words or the physical layout of a page.
Why the fuss?
Last week, we spoke about fallacies. Well, if there is anything that cannot run into such trouble, it is non-verbal communication. In a corporate rat race and an abundant swirl of bachelors, masters, PHD’s, internships and resumes, the window to an individual’s true character is often the manner in which we present ourselves. We often make the mistake of only paying attention to our presentation when we make formal presentations. What we tend to forget is that the process of creating an impression is an ongoing one and is, for lack of a better analogy, much like building a resume or portfolio.
So, now that we have established the importance of non-verbal communication, let us now look at the nitty-gritty’s; the main aspects of non-verbal communication.
Dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s
1. Ramrod straight
Darlene Price, author of ‘Well Said! Presentations and Conversations that get Results’ says, “When you stand up tall and straight, you send a message of self-assurance, authority and energy.” She adds, “good posture creates a dynamic commanding presence and an attitude of leadership”. Posture can also be an indicator of self-esteem and confidence. This is not to say, of course, that it is alright to act pompously. There is a fine line between appearing confident and pompous and one must be careful not to cross that line particularly in an interview. Keeping your feet slightly apart when standing and crossing your legs at the ankles or knees are good indicators of confidence and worldliness. Similarly, standing and sitting upright are good indicators of energy levels.
2. Groom and shine
The key here is to look elegant and classy. Shakespeare once said, “For the apparel oft proclaims the man.” And indeed it does! To look attractive is one thing but to appear un-classily attempting to do so is another. ‘Business Casual’ should never be mistaken for ‘Business Careless’. Tailored clothes are not a must but of course recommended and worth investing in. Excessive perfume and make-up run the risk of inappropriateness. Nails should be well-kept but simply so. Work is hardly the place to sport gel nails with your favourite cartoon character. For men, choice of tie and shoes are of grave importance alongside good haircuts and shaves.
3. A handshake says it all…..almost
The handshake is the only time you will, in most instances, have any physical contact with colleagues, prospective employers, etc. So, make it count! A good handshake is firm but not crushing and should see hands meeting side by side rather than on top of one another. Knowing when to let go is also key; one or two shakes is adequate. It’s important to look the other person in the eye when shaking hands which brings me to my next point.
4. It’s in the eyes
It is claimed that during crucial moments of a conversation or meeting, looking at a person for about 2-3 seconds conveys warmth, interest and in some cases uncertainty or approval. Eye contact can be a good gauge of the general atmosphere. The lack of it can indicate low energy levels, boredom, etc. Eye contact is often the golden touch. Yet bear in mind that all forms of non-verbal communication are subject to cultural norms. This is especially so in the case of eye contact. In some cultures, eye contact can be perceived as a challenge to authority.
5. Wave away… bad idea
Using hand gestures is a good thing, to illustrate and emphasize a point. Done correctly, it signifies ease, comfort and of course the all-important confidence. When overdone, it may even come across as overtly casual, unprofessional or over-enthusiastic. Hand gestures should be kept to a moderate level.. The best gesture is probably one that effectively mirrors the gestures of the person addressing you. This may sometimes include elements like laughter. This conveys a message of reception and comprehension. Be careful not to appear sarcastic or mocking though!
These are the five most basic components of non-verbal communication have been discussed but there is a whole lot more yet to be learnt – for instance, the right volume and rate to talk at in a corporate setting, controlling facial expressions, etc. However, these can only be learnt when the basics are ingrained in an individual such that they become unconsciously conscious of the manner in which they present themselves, in hopes of nailing that first good and lasting impression!