Have you ever been so worried about what to say to persuade someone that you completely forgot to take into consideration how to say it? This happened to me this summer when I went to a job interview. I was so nervous thinking about all the things I would say to persuade the interviewer that I was the right candidate, that I completely forgot to pay attention to my nonverbal communication. Sometimes, when using persuasion, we give so much value to the power of our words that we forget to acknowledge the importance of displaying appropriate nonverbal skills. Today, persuasive communication is pervasive in our daily lives and it is crucial to understand the key role that nonverbal communication plays in it.
Although we may not be completely aware of it, we are constantly using persuasion within our interpersonal relationships. We use persuasion when we appeal to reasons, values, beliefs, and emotions to induce a listener or reader to think or act in a certain way. For example, by writing this blog I am trying to convince you about the importance of placing a high value on our nonverbal skills when trying to persuade others. Other examples of persuasion in our daily lives and within interpersonal relationships include a job interview, a romantic date, or a meeting with a professor to discuss the grade of an assignment. Since persuasion is omnipresent in our daily life, developing a wide range of persuasion skills can help us succeed in our personal and professional relationships. For this reason, it is important to bear in mind that a good set of persuasion skills must include effective nonverbal communication skills as well.
In fact, in their study Making Message Recipients “Feel Right”: How Nonverbal Cues Can Increase Persuasion, Dr. Higgins (from Columbia University) and Assistant Professor Joseph Cesario (from Michigan State University) theorize that nonverbal cues are an essential element of persuasive appeals. They argue that when the nonverbal cues of the sender cause the receiver positive feelings, the receiver in this case is more likely to be persuaded by the message. This theory is supported by CTV news who in an article called Nonverbal Persuasion: Winning an Argument Without Words report that nonverbal persuasion is very effective because it is subtle and it works mostly on the unconscious. In addition, the article states that appropriate nonverbal messages are more powerful than words to diffuse tension during persuasion.
In Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, well-known Communication Studies researcher Dr. Julia T. Wood states that nonverbal communication, which encompasses all aspects of communication other than words (including kinesics, haptics, proxemics, chronemics, silence, artifacts, and physical appearance), deeply affects the meaning of our messages. She explains that we need to pay attention to nonverbal behaviors because they account for 65-93% of the total meaning of a message. She also explains that one of the differences between verbal and nonverbal communication is that nonverbal communication tends to be perceived as more credible. According to Wood, this is attributed to the fact that most of us think that nonverbal communication is more trustworthy when it comes to expressing true emotions. For example, the person that interviewed me this summer did not believe me when I was telling him that I was a confident and assertive person because my nonverbal behavior was conveying that I was very nervous and insecure. Therefore, Wood also provides good reasons for which nonverbal skills are essential when trying to persuade others. In addition, she affirms that nonverbal communication is not an innate quality, but rather a skill that we can develop if we work on it.
In conclusion, it is important to realize that appropriate nonverbal communication is essential for effective persuasion. In addition, knowing that nonverbal communication is a skill that can be developed and improved can motivate us to monitor our nonverbal communication in order to expand our range of nonverbal communication skills. Thus, the next time you try to seduce the man or woman of your dreams on a romantic date or the next time you try to get an interviewer to offer you a job remember to pay attention to your nonverbal communication. The Nonverbal Communication Association (NCA) of the National Communication Association (NCA) provides a link on its website that allows you to test your nonverbal skills and to learn how to improve them. So, remember, nonverbal communication speaks louder than words!