Personal Advice: Words Are Not Everything



  • Body language can send signals that might be detrimental to a customer, business or personal relationship
  • Positive non-verbal behaviors include maintaining eye contact, smiling, and using open gestures

Talking, writing and analytical thinking have always been critical skills for professional communicators. Now, with emails, tweets and Facebook posts, the digital world has given us new ways to share ideas – while presenting additional interpersonal communication challenges for us to overcome. Certain critical communication factors that may seem basic, but can ultimately make you a success or failure, are non-verbal signals and body language.  How they are read, either positively or negatively, can be detrimental to a customer, business or personal relationship.

I have seen these negative behaviors firsthand many times over the years: a bored yawn at a meeting, defiantly folded arms, continual frowning, standing too close to someone, touching, too much eye contact (or lack thereof) and certain kinds of hand gestures can all speak louder than words. By researching your audience for cultural differences, pre-dispositions and biases, you can avoid mistakes and make your relationship a success.

I require all of my students to do a series of one-on-one “elevator” speeches, where I can advise them and emphasize the positive signals that work.  This list is from expert Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., who advises the Dilenschneider Group, and confirms what I have been teaching for years:

• Face people directly. Turning away signals lack of interest. Close your laptop, and turn off your cell phone or messaging device.
• Maintain positive eye contact. Eye contact signals full attention and leads to a greater level of approval.
• Use open gestures.  Relax and show open palms – this signals credibility and candor.
• Use your head. Nodding along when someone is speaking most often elicits a positive response.
• Smile power.  We prefer happy faces, and people will smile in return. This sends a message of warmth and welcome.

My last piece of advice is to remember that people in meetings may be watching you, even when you’re not presenting, speaking or on a break. Pay close attention to what your body language is saying; you want your non-verbal actions to be right at all times.


The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily The University of Texas at Austin.

About The Author

Terry Hemeyer

Senior Lecturer, Department of Advertising, College of Communications, University of Texas at Austin

Professor Terry Hemeyer is one of the few public relations executives that have attained C-suite status beyond typical communications functions....

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