19 Important Nonverbal Communications Skills For Every Professional To Master

Expert Panel® Forbes Coaches Council

Nonverbal communication is an essential aspect of effective communication, especially in professional settings. While speaking clearly and with confidence is another crucial element of succeeding professionally, nonverbal cues often speak louder than words. By understanding and leveraging nonverbal communication skills, professionals can build stronger relationships, enhance their credibility and ultimately achieve their career goals.

Below, 19 Forbes Coaches Council members explore key nonverbal communication skills that are important for every professional to master. Read on to learn how nonverbal actions can complement the words professionals use to more effectively get a message across to others.

1. The Silent Pause

If we speak “musically”—with an intention to share our words as phrases, with a situationally appropriate tempo, inflection and tone—we can deliberately position silence (like a rest note in music theory) to incline the listener’s ear toward welcome anticipation of our next word, phrase or sound. We can transform a common message into an event through the mastery of our silence. – Christopher Bell, III, StealthEnomics

2. Eye Contact

Eye contact is a powerful nonverbal communication skill that can convey trust, interest and confidence. Maintaining eye contact during a conversation indicates that you are engaged and interested in what the other person is saying. – Jessica Stroud, She RULES

3. Settling Into Your Body

Settle into your body so that you are grounded and balanced. Our attention is often focused up into our head, as we try to process our inner voice while trying to connect with others at the same time. Take a few seconds periodically to be aware of your feet on the floor or your body touching the chair. Let gravity do its work. Whatever you do next will be more connected with others and more authentic. – Patrick Briody, Creative Balance Coaching

4. Leaning In To Show Interest

Leaning in and posturing forward sends a signal that you are attentively paying attention, interested and engaged. Of course, then you must listen and reflect, demonstrating understanding. If you lean back while listening, it can come across as judgmental. What makes this skill powerful is that it opens up whoever is talking to you because you are sending the signal of being genuinely interested. – Sherre DeMao, BizGrowth Inc

5. Understanding Boundaries

Boundaries are a language that I believe everyone should master, as they communicate a lot about personal spaces and levels of comfort. For example, in some cultures, people tend to stand closer together when they are speaking, while in others, people prefer to maintain more distance. In some cultures, physical touch is a way of showing respect, while in others, physical touch is inappropriate. – Temitope Olukunle, Outnovately Africa

6. Facial Expressions

Facial expressions are a vital part of nonverbal communication that every professional must master. Facial expressions show our colleagues what we are thinking and how we comprehend what is being said. We use facial expressions to show that we are interested in what the other person is saying. This strengthens morale and confidence within organizations and shows your care and respect. – Christopher Fairbank, The Dare To Be Different Speaker

7. Hand Placement

Hand placement is often neglected, but how and where you place your hands during a conversation matters. Using your hands in tandem with what you are saying conveys strength and allows you to emphasize certain points of your speech, but the great power of hands is that you can use them as spatial pointers to bring the audience’s attention to a particular space. –Jedidiah Alex Koh, Coaching Changes Lives

8. Smiling

Smiling is a simple yet powerful way to convey the positivity and approachability essential for effective communication. Smiling builds trust and helps establish a connection that makes people feel more comfortable opening up to you. Furthermore, smiling triggers the release of endorphins, relaxes your facial muscles and makes you more relaxed even during difficult conversations. – Priya Kartik, Enspire Academy

9. Preparing Emotionally

On stage, you are an emotional maestro. As such, focus on preparing emotionally; there’s no point in trying to “learn” body language. Make your audience feel your message to help them remember it. Emphasize confidence to build trust and authority; this will naturally open your hands, chest and heart, allowing your words to flow effortlessly. – Mariana Ferrari, Dooit

10. Knowing How You Look When You Are Speaking

When is the last time you saw yourself speak in a business setting? With video calls, you can. Position your camera so that you look at yourself while you speak. Do you nod constantly? Do you look up into the sky when you’re thinking? Do you touch your face constantly? Observe yourself and make intentional changes to your nonverbal communication habits. – Cara Heilmann, International Association of Career Coaches

11. Showing Respect

What does respect look, sound and feel like? A person showing respect acknowledges the presence of all, looks others in the eye and holds their gaze. They listen intently without interruption, recognizing that you want to add to the discussion. A respectful person excuses your absence, offers you a chair when there is only one left, lets you enter and exit before them, points out an error in private and helps to remedy it. – Elaine Rosenblum, J.D., ProForm U®

12. Stopping To SITS

In our coaching process for leaders, we emphasize the importance of SITS, which stands for “settle into the silence.” We encourage leaders to ask questions and then SITS as they listen to understand. It’s amazing how much a leader can learn when they remain curious and use the nonverbal skill of SITS to hear what is being said as well as what is not being said. –Cindy Lamir, Impact Business Coaches

13. Managing Tempo

Mastering tempo—pausing, stopping, speeding up—and other time-related communication skills is hugely underrated. Deliberately managing the speed of communications can help improve understanding, especially when there are differences stemming from cultural habits. – Ben Levitan, Cedalion Partners

14. Staying Anchored

I use a simple, important anchoring technique: Keep your two feet on the floor (no legs crossed) in front of you (not under the chair) and pointing toward the person you talk to. This enables you to do many things. You will breathe better and have a deeper tone of voice to convey your message; your body will be stable and fully facing the other person, showing confidence and focus and that you see them and are listening. – Julien Fortuit, Julien Fortuit Agency

15. Listening With Intent

Manage mental narratives to listen with intent. It’s not enough to “act” as if you are listening. Listen with your whole being, without unnecessary brain chatter. To connect deeper, set aside your need to develop a reply or further your agenda. Listen past the pause to allow others to fully express themselves. The ability to listen with intent sets you apart as a truly great communicator. – Erin Urban, UPPSolutions, LLC

16. Humility

If you are humble, you will be receptive to the discussion. Going into a discussion presumptuously may result in having reservations—and not so great outcomes. Humility brings a lot of positives: receptivity to ideas, an equanimous outlook and trust, which are all key to great communication. –Shruti Parashar, GOALisB

17. Emotional Expression

Master the degree to which you share and wear your feelings and emotions in your emotional expression. Disclosure of emotions is typical, but some of the best leaders tap into self-awareness by actively listening and observing their colleagues’ reactions. Their next move will really show that they have picked up on fine emotional signals during your interaction. – Kathleen Shanley, Statice

18. Empathy

Empathy in your eye contact is probably the top nonverbal communication skill that a professional needs to master. It reflects care and attentiveness, and even if you are likely to disagree with the other person, it gives them the satisfaction of knowing that they are being heard. This builds trust and a long-term relationship. – Manzar Bashir, Potential Mapping

19. Looking Directly Into The Webcam

The best nonverbal communication skill that every professional should master is looking directly into their webcam during Zoom meetings. Although a large percentage of meetings are conducted virtually in 2023, many people look at themselves or elsewhere on their screens during their meetings. Set yourself apart as a great listener and communicator by making direct eye contact with your webcam! – Will Rippetoe, The Interview Beast