The Art of Non-Verbal Communication in a Video Conferencing World

Non-verbal communication—and learning how to send and receive the right messages—is an important part of how we relate to others professionally. Here's how to have a professional presence in our video conferencing world.
virtual conference

A good chunk of how we communicate doesn’t have anything to do with what we say or even how we say it. Instead, we “say” a lot without even saying a word. Non-verbal communication—and learning how to send and receive the right messages—is an important part of how we relate to others, both professionally and personally. 

Angela Podolsky, founder of Canada-based Kinesics Consulting, is an expert on kinesics, the study of the way in which certain body movements and gestures serve as a form of non-verbal communication. Podolsky helps business professionals to learn the art of body language, in order to optimize the value of every interaction and ultimately improve business outcomes.

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Podolsky will share some tips and tricks as part of her keynote at the CompTIA Canadian Business Technology Community's free virtual session, "What's Your Body Language Saying During Online Meetings" on Thursday, April 30 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. We caught up with Podolsky in advance of the meeting to learn more about what she does and how tech professionals and IT pros can benefit from activating their awareness of what’s left unsaid.

In the tech world, we talk a lot about having a balance of technical skills and soft skills, and how constantly evolving both sets of skills is necessary in order to be successful. But we usually talk about communication in very general terms. How does emotional intelligence fit into communication?

There are several factors. First and foremost is understanding that we all have learned behaviors. The saying goes, “Show me who your friends are and I’ll show you who you are.” We have to be mindful of our surroundings and learn from them. Every surrounding is different. If you find yourself in a more diverse surrounding, it’s natural to bring you biases with you. If we are actively aware of that fact, we’re immediately on the right path to better relationships.

You’re an expert on non-verbal communication. How does this factor in?

We have five channels of communication: body, face, verbal content, verbal style and tone. If we only pay attention to one, we’re missing quite a lot. All of us are wired to read non-verbal messages—we do it subconsciously all the time. A great example is the evolution of emojis. Emojis were not born because they are simply cute additions to our text messages. Emojis were born out of necessity. When you get a text from a friend, you are interpreting their mood and intent based on your mood at the moment. Before the rise of the emoji, people were misinterpreting messages. It used to be a no-no to use emojis in business communications. But now that businesses employ instant messaging tools and email is widely used, people utilize emojis to convey what words can’t. It makes your message more human.

Amid the global pandemic we’re experiencing, many people are now working remotely. While there are benefits to being able to work from home, one of the drawbacks is less face-to-face interaction with your co-workers. How do you think this impacts our emotional intelligence? It is a “use it or lose it” type of skill?

We find that when people have more time they connect more. With COVID-19, everyone is adjusting to working from home and we would assume that this will create a disconnect, but we’re actually seeing people reaching out more than ever to connect via video calls—and that’s great! Since technology is so advanced today, we’re in a far better position than we would have been in this situation even 10 years ago. The more we interact, the better we get at it. Taking the time to talk to others, even via video chat from your home office is not only great for business, but it’s vital to your mental health. Studies show time and time again how talking to others helps our emotional and mental state as it gets us out of our own heads and opens us up to new experiences and new perspectives.

In any industry networking is really important, but it’s not something that comes easily to everyone. What are your tips for people who aren’t natural networkers?

Our brains are wired to protect us. When we enter a new surrounding our brain tells us “this is safe” or “this is unsafe.” Of course, “safe” and “unsafe” are determined by our past experiences. These labels (intentional or unintentional) put us in a box. If you want to step outside of that box you have to be able to recognize why you categorized a particular experience in the first place. Once you understand the “why” you’ll be better equipped to try something new. Practice is a great thing. Practice how you would introduce yourself, practice your 30-second elevator pitch and practice how you’ll respond to common questions.

What about interviewing? Interviewing skills are a big part of the growing tech industry right now—and there are many ways companies recruit nowadays. One example is the video interview where candidates may be asked to record a video of themselves answering a list of questions—but without an interviewer on the other side. How do applicants ace these types of interviews?

Reading people is very complex and these type of one-way canned video submissions can be very tricky for that reason. The hiring manager is tasked with watching a brief video and based on what they see (and their own biases and perceptions) they have to make the decision to move the candidate to the next round. This can be even harder to assess when recruiting for sales roles or client-facing positions because the hiring manager is reading the candidate out of context. My best piece of advice is to record yourself answering the questions a few times on your phone before you record your submission. Pay attention to your facial expressions and how you use your hands while talking. Remember, body language is culture specific, but facial expressions are universal. Another option would be having a friend or family member stand behind the camera while you’re recording. That way you are speaking to an actual person, which will make a huge difference in the quality of your video.

We talk a lot about the need for IT pros to be able to educate and train others within an organization on topics like security best practices. In this case, we’re talking about people who have a very high technical know-how talking to people who have a wide range of technical expertise. How can these two groups most effectively communicate with each other?

This is very common. I often work with companies to teach them how to scale up and scale down. Tech people see things in a very detailed way—this is their gift and that’s the beauty of it. However, when they have to communicate with a non-tech audience, speaking in the weeds isn’t going to resonate. This is where scaling up and scaling down comes into play. Scaling up is giving a high-level explanation. Oftentimes I liken this to speaking in very basic terms that a child could understand. On the other hand, it’s okay to scale down and give more detail when you’re speaking to someone with more knowledge. The key is being able to slide back and forth on this scale. You may start a training session to a small group of non-technical people with a very high-level presentation, but find out that they have more knowledge than you thought. Then you would scale down a bit to a level that works for your audience—and continue that process based on their feedback.

Here’s the 64-million-dollar question: How do we improve our emotional intelligence?

How do you get better at anything? You take lessons. These lessons can be in the form of more formal training, like online classes, or more informal, like simply making an effort to work on one new skill at a time. Ultimately, the goal is to open up and become aware. Once you are aware of these things, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you adapt. I don’t expect anyone to become an expert in a short amount of time. But once the awareness is there, we can start applying what we’ve learned little by little. The small things you can apply will make a massive difference.

Register for What's Your Body Language Saying During Online Meetings on Thursday, April 30 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time.

About Kinesics Consulting

Kinesics Consulting offers a wide range of training based on the practical application of scientific research in the area of non-verbal communication and credibility analysis. Training sessions are customized to the client’s needs, which may include consulting sessions, workshops and keynote speaking engagements.

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