Verbal communication includes audible and written words, whereas, nonverbal communication includes eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and touching. Non-verbal communication even includes guttural sounds like grunts and sighs.
Communication experts have suggested that we use various forms of non-verbal communication two times (2x) more often than verbal communication. The above average person uses approximately 10,000 different words in their normal conversations. In contrast, communication experts have also suggested that the human face is able to make 250,000 different facial expressions. [Ok, as a humorous side-note, when the researchers were counting all of these different facial expresses, I wonder how the researchers kept track of these differences? I can just hear two researchers arguing with each other—“Fred, haven’t we already counted that facial expression?”]
When it comes to the quality of relationships between leaders and their followers, generally speaking, communication between managers and their employees works well when the manager’s verbal and non-verbal communication are coordinated and consistent with each other. This is best illustrated when a manager’s spoken words and actions are in unity and harmony with one another and positively reinforces the employee’s performance. During these times, the manager delivers a clear and consistent message to the employee that promotes understanding, confidence, engagement, and productivity. However, in some cases, the manager’s verbal and non-verbal communications are misaligned and seem to be saying two different things. When this happens, the manager gives the employee a confusing mixed message. An example of this occurs when the manager tells an employee that the company supports a work/life balance policy, and when the employee requests the opportunity to leave early from work for a child’s sports event, the manager says its “OK.” But at the same time the manager is saying “OK,” the manager also acts very frustrated and irritated that the employee has made the request. Although the employee has heard the manager’s verbal message (“it’s OK”)—the employee has also received and observed a powerful non-verbal message that can cause them to be frustrated, anxious, and guilty.
As this last example illustrates, when the manager’s two forms of communication (i.e., verbal and nonverbal communication) contradict or come into conflict with each other, employees more often focus on what they “see” (non-verbal communication) from their managers—rather than what they “hear” (verbal communication). Hence the phrase, “actions speak louder than words.”
The leadership lesson learned here is this: Leaders/managers need to closely monitor how their words and actions might be interpreted by their employees. When their words and actions are not consistent, leaders/managers must act quickly and take the necessary actions to clarify, and in some cases correct, the inconsistency. Leaders who take this approach build confidence, trust, and authenticity with their followers. And most importantly, their leadership credibility depends upon it!