The art of influence: It’s not just what you say

If you think people are listening to you with only their ears, you know only half the story. Want to be more influential and better understood? Then be aware that you also “speak” with your body.

Non-verbal communications include the look on your face, eye contact, your posture, how close you are to the person with whom you are speaking, how you move, the way you use your voice and a little something called humour.

Let’s look more closely at each one.

Facial expressions — Smiles are almost contagious. When you smile you are seen to be happy, friendly, approachable and warm. So, smile. A lot. On the other hand, frowns are like a wall people must climb before they have any chance of understanding your message.

Eye contact — They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Looking into people’s eyes opens the door to honest communications and gives you credibility in the other person’s, well, eyes. It also shows you are interested in and concerned about what the other person has to say.

Posture — The way you sit, stand and walk says a lot about you. Imagine the message that is being sent when someone slouches while speaking to you. Now, imagine they are standing as rigid as a board. Those postures send completely different signals. When speaking to someone, face them and stand straight, but not too straight.

Proximity — We’ve come to expect a certain “personal space” in our culture. Standing too far away can put distance between you and the other person, both literally and figuratively. Stand close enough—which also improves eye contact—but watch for signals such as gaze aversion and finger and foot tapping that indicate you are invading the other person’s space.

Gestures — Do it too little and you are seen as boring; do it too much and you are perceived as hyperactive. Try to find a nice balance that portrays enthusiasm and a real interest in the subject. A little entertainment is not a bad thing, just don’t overdo it.

Paralinguistics — This is just a fancy term for “properties of speech.” This includes tone, pitch, rhythm, timbre, volume and inflection. Speaking in a monotone is the quickest way to tell someone that you find the subject boring. The most engaging speakers learn to vary these six elements of their voices.

Sense of humour — Some people have it and others, well, they have less it. Laughter is a persuasive but often underemphasized tool. Imagine a room full of people who don’t know each other. Laughter is the fastest way to break the ice. Imagine trying to teach. What better way than by using humourous anecdotes? Laughter is a wonderful tool that can ease tensions and foster a friendly environment. Not getting through to someone? Lighten up!

Adequate knowledge of the subject matter is crucial to your ability to be compelling and persuasive, of course. But it’s not the only important element. Non-verbal skills can be just as helpful.

Want to improve your non-verbal skills? Videotape a presentation or discussion with a colleague and then review it to see where you can improve.

[This article was originally written for our client, the Office of the Superintendent of BankruptcyReprinted with permission.]