5 Essential Types of Nonverbal Communication Used by Effective Leaders

Speaking is not the only way to communicate. In fact, various types of nonverbal communication play a significant role in how people interact. Your facial expressions, gestures, and even your posture can impact the way people perceive your message.

In a workplace, these nonverbal cues can be instrumental in getting your point across and ensuring that coworkers or subordinates understand exactly what you mean. Spotting these cues in other people may also help with your communication skills.

Communication is an important part of working with other people. If you are interested in improving your communication skills, you should understand the types of nonverbal communication.

How to Spot the Main Types of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication can be divided into several categories. Besides speaking, people can communicate with facial expressions, gestures, body language, and eye contact. There are also two types of nonverbal communication related to touch and personal distance.

Why is it important to understand nonverbal cues? Experts believe that these cues are even more important than the words that come out of your mouth.

Your expressions and body language can drastically change the way someone interprets your message. For example, when you tell a subordinate to complete a task, your tone of voice and nonverbal signals can help emphasize the urgency or lack of urgency in completing the task.

Nonverbal communication works both ways. Paying attention to other people’s nonverbal signals can also help with your workplace communication and the ability to react the right way.

Understanding the most common types of non-verbal communication may help you connect with people and appear more empathetic.

Facial Expressions

Even if they do not verbally express their feelings, some people cannot hide behind their facial expressions. They give everything away with the look on their face. Expressions are also often the first thing that you see when communicating with someone.

The facial expressions for the most common human emotions are universal. Anger, sadness, fear, and happiness are hard to misinterpret. However, there are also subtle expressions that can help put people at ease or make them uncomfortable.

Body Language

Body language also impacts communication. Your stance and posture can make you appear intimidating, powerful, or confident. Your body language may also be used to make you appear shy, insecure, and scared.

Differences in how you stand or position your body can change the way people perceive you. Body language helps establish the mood of the conversation, rather than helping to illustrate a point or specific message.


Gestures, such as hand movements, are also often used to communicate without using words. You may point to direct someone’s attention to something. You may lift your arm to display your watch to indicate that time is up.

These gestures are often used in place of words or to add emphasis to the message that you are trying to communicate.


Proxemics refers to the distance between you and the person that you are communicating with. Depending on the type of conversation and number of people that you are talking to, you may choose to stand closer or further away.

Standing too close to someone may make them uncomfortable, as you may be invading their personal space. However, the concept of personal space can vary based on a variety of factors, including cultural upbringing, social norms, and how familiar you are with the person.


The final type of nonverbal communicatio is called haptics. This refers to touch. Touching someone on the arm or shoulder can be used to express sympathy, affection, or other types of emotions.

Women often use haptics to express concern or care. Men may use haptics as a form of dominance. However, this is a type of non-verbal communication that most human resources departments would warn against.

How to Improve Your Use of Nonverbal Communication

Now that you understand the types of nonverbal communication, you can begin putting them to use in the workplace. Communication skills are essential for managers, supervisors, and other leaders.

When you talk to subordinates, you should pay attention to the nonverbal signals that you are sending. There are ways to make yourself more relatable and approachable, along with ways to keep people at a distance.

Nonverbal communication offers five separate uses. You may use nonverbal communication to repeat the message that you are making verbally. You may also use nonverbal cues to contradict the verbal message.

Some nonverbal gestures are used as a substitute for verbal communication, while other gestures can help accent your verbal message.

Gain Control of Your Facial Expressions

The first type of nonverbal communication to master is your facial expressions. This is often the hardest type of nonverbal signals to control. However, there are a few ways to keep your mouth and eyes in check.

To gain control of your facial expressions, you need control of your emotions. For most people, this means finding ways to reduce stress and manage anger.

When you are dealing with a difficult situation, you should take a moment to breathe before communicating. This short pause often gives people enough time to control any stress or anger and gather their thoughts before speaking.

You can also use facial expressions to help diffuse situations. When you sense that someone is uncomfortable or when a subordinate is overly upset with themselves, a simple smile can help them feel more relaxed and at ease. This helps set the stage for effective communication.

Use Body Language to Connect with Your Staff

Standing with your arms crossed closes you off to people and lets people know that you do not want to communicate or listen to their thoughts. This is rarely a positive use of nonverbal communication, especially in the workplace.

Standing with your arms behind your back or with your hands on your hips can make you more approachable. Placing your arms behind your back is the opposite of crossing them in front of your chest.

This stance lets your subordinates know that you are listening and value their input. You may use this stance during a meeting or when listening to an update from your staff.

Placing your hands on your hips shows confidence without being threatening. This is a neutral stance that is useful in most situations. With your hands on your hips, you are also free to easily incorporate gestures to help get your point across.

Getting Your Point Across with Gestures

You should be careful with gestures in the workplace. Pointing at someone can be interpreted as an intimidating gesture, even when you do not have hostile intentions. Using large hand movements can also be intimidating or distracting. This does not mean that you need to keep your hands in place.

You can use gestures to help accent your message. Instead of pointing at someone, you can use an open hand with your palm turned slightly upward to gesture toward someone or recognize someone in a group meeting. This is less intimidating and is often used to welcome someone to speak.

Proxemics and Haptics in the Workplace

The final group of nonverbal cues includes proxemics and haptics. As mentioned, you may want to avoid haptics in the workplace. Touching someone in any way can be misinterpreted. That last thing you want is for a subordinate to file a complaint against you simply because you were trying to improve your communication skills.

Proxemics refers to the distance between you and the person to whom you are speaking. When it comes to proxemics, you will need to use your best judgment based on the person or people that you are speaking to.

When speaking to a large group, it makes sense to stand further back. However, when speaking with an individual, you may want to get a little closer. That being said, avoid standing close enough that you make the person uncomfortable. To avoid this problem, you need to pay attention to their nonverbal cues.

Recognizing Nonverbal Signals from Other People

Responding to other people’s signals is a big part of using nonverbal cues to improve your communication skills. Along with focusing on your own body language and facial expressions, you should pay attention to how other people act.

If you are standing too close to someone, they may use their body language to let you know that you should back off. They may even use body language without realizing it. For example, they may turn slightly away from you, take a step backward, or cross their arms in front of their chest.

You can also detect nonverbal signals that let you know when someone is losing interest in the conversation or not following your point. They may avoid direct eye contact or look toward the door or exit frequently. In these situations, you are getting nonverbal cues that you need to adjust your nonverbal communication.

Last Thoughts on Using Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace

If you want to become a more effective manager or supervisor, you should pay close attention to the types of nonverbal communication that you use. Whether you are instructing, disciplining, or listening to a subordinate, your nonverbal signals influence the way that you interact and how your interactions are perceived.

Nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. While you may not master your ability to control your nonverbal communication overnight, you should start putting these tips into practice.

Whenever you talk to someone, focus on the forms of nonverbal communication that you are using as well as the forms that they are using.

When someone is uncomfortable, unresponsive, or unable to understand your message, they may let you know without verbal communication, in ways such as looking away from you or adjusting their posture. Use these signals to change the way that you communicate nonverbally.