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Navigating nonverbal communication


Learn how to pick up on your nonverbal communication and what it says to candidates and colleagues. Posted by Alexandra Cappetta
Learn how to pick up on your nonverbal communication and what it says to candidates and colleagues.

Nonverbal communication. Sometimes it’s as obvious as an eye roll. Other times, it’s as subtle as a slight tilt of the head. Regardless, even when we’re not consciously aware of it, our body language sends messages. And these messages influence how others perceive us and how we perceive them.

As a recruiter, it helps to have an awareness of how your nonverbal cues impact your interactions with prospective hires. Likewise, paying attention to their body language can help you remain intuitive and receptive to what they might be thinking or feeling.

So, what messages are you sending to candidates? And what messages are candidates sending you?

Types of nonverbal communication

Body language isn’t one size fits all. It can take on different meanings depending with whom you’re interacting, and it’s often subjective to one’s own experiences. However, it can give hints, and it’s our brain’s natural way of gathering information and giving context to our surroundings.

MasterClass, an online educational platform, outlines the eight types of nonverbal communication.

First is kinesics, or body movements. How much we’re using our hands when we speak, how we position our bodies during conversation and other gestures can indicate one’s openness or attentiveness during a conversation. Another is proxemics, or the distance between people when they communicate. It can signal openness and trust.

The third type of nonverbal communication, posture, can influence how we assess another’s interest or mood. And others, like eye contact, may hint at how comfortable one feels, or whether they’re being honest and direct.

Some signals may be harder to read, such as touch and paralanguage - meaning the loudness or tone of one’s voice - but they still play a part in how we perceive others. For instance, a firm handshake might indicate confidence and strength, and a softer-spoken voice might bring the assumption that one is quiet or sensitive - which may or may not be the case.

The last two types of nonverbal communication, facial expressions and physiology, such as increased sweating or blinking, can suggest what an individual feels in a given moment - whether it’s confusion, happiness, anxiety or another emotion. Sometimes, these expressions are out of our control and can surface as a subconscious reaction to the setting or situation.

How your body language impacts candidates’ perception

You use each of these types of nonverbal communication practices every day whether you realize it or not. But by being aware and intentional about your body language, it can help you ensure you’re communicating properly with those you want to form connections.

As the hiring employer, you often set the tone for your interactions - whether it’s the first meeting, second interview or during the onboarding process. The more formal you present, the more likely a candidate will feel the need to carry themselves the same way; the more comfortable and relaxed you appear, the more likely they are to adopt the same approach.

Additionally, when you interact with candidates, notice how your body movements impact not only how engaged you look, but also how engaged you feel. Various studies have concluded that our body language isn’t just a reaction to our attitude - it actually precedes it.

Have you ever heard smiling makes you happier even when you’re in a bad mood? That’s because our mindsets follow our body language, not the other way around.

Say it’s your third interview of the day. You’re slumped in a chair with your head balanced on your hand during a conversation and you notice you’re feeling unengaged. It’s partially due to your body language setting the narrative for your mindset. Alternatively, if you’re lively as you speak about a job opportunity, maintain eye contact and positive facial expressions and offer a firm and confident handshake, the energized attitude will follow.

With this understanding, you can channel your nonverbal communication to influence not only what you want potential hires to perceive, but also how you want to feel during your interactions with them.

How candidates’ body language impacts your perception

Body language is present during every in-person interaction with a potential hire and some forms are noticeable during audio and video calls. With an awareness of how they’re communicating nonverbally, you can get a better feel for how they’re responding to the situation beyond what is said.

For example, if you’re interviewing a candidate who has their arms crossed and avoids smiling or using any gestures when speaking, it may come across as closed off or rigid. Alternatively, lots of hand motions and animated body movements can give the impression they’re more passionate and engaged in the conversation.

While reading body language and other nonverbal cues is a helpful tool for forming perceptions during your encounters, it’s only that: a perception. If you’re getting to know a candidate whose body language initially makes them appear cold or uninterested, it may not necessarily mean you’re wasting your time. Anxiety-inducing circumstances or nerves can send mixed messages and make body language more ambiguous.  

If you sense this, you can briefly pause the interview or conversation to say something reassuring like, "I’m noticing you seem a bit reserved today, and I know these discussions often come with nerves. Let’s take the pressure off and just chat openly about your interest in this opportunity."

Body language isn’t the only way to assess how a candidate feels about a current situation or opportunity, but it also shouldn’t be underestimated as a legitimate form of communication. Although meaning is derived through our own biased lenses, noticing nonverbals can usually provide insight about an interaction and help you facilitate more successful encounters with potential connections.  


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