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The Silent Miscommunication: When Body Language Betrays Your HR Message

By Anna Naveed


Human Resources Blog Library

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HR professionals navigate a complex landscape of human emotions. From delivering performance feedback to mediating conflict, clear communication is paramount. Yet, nonverbal cues like body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice can often overshadow our carefully crafted words. This article explores the challenges HR professionals face when their nonverbal cues contradict their message, and offers strategies to bridge the communication gap, fostering trust and a positive work environment.

The Power of the Unspoken: Why Nonverbal Cues Matter

Nonverbal communication is a powerful tool, accounting for a significant portion of the message received. Studies by Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer in nonverbal communication research, suggest that words make up only 7% of the message, while tone of voice contributes 38% and body language a whopping 55%. As Patti McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, emphasizes, "Building trust is crucial in HR. When your body language contradicts your words, trust erodes."

A study published in the Journal of Personnel Science found that employees who perceived a mismatch between an HR professional's verbal and nonverbal communication reported feeling less satisfied with their interactions and more anxious about future dealings. This highlights the importance of ensuring your body language aligns with your intended message.

The Pitfalls of Miscommunication: When Body Language Gets Lost in Translation

Several factors can contribute to miscommunication through nonverbal cues:

  • Cultural Differences: Nonverbal cues can vary significantly across cultures. A raised eyebrow might signal confusion in one culture but disapproval in another. Being aware of these nuances is crucial for effective cross-cultural communication.
  • Unconscious Bias: Implicit biases can manifest in nonverbal cues. Crossed arms might subconsciously convey disapproval, even if the intention is to listen attentively.
  • Stress and Fatigue: When stressed or tired, our nonverbal cues can become less controlled. This can lead to misinterpretations, particularly during sensitive HR conversations.


Understanding these pitfalls allows HR professionals to be more mindful of their nonverbal communication and take steps to ensure clarity.

Bridging the Gap: Strategies for Effective Nonverbal Communication in HR

Here are some practical strategies to ensure your body language complements your message:

  • Maintain Eye Contact: Eye contact demonstrates attentiveness, interest, and sincerity. However, avoid staring, which can come across as aggressive.
  • Open Body Language: Uncrossed arms, a relaxed posture, and a slight lean forward convey openness and receptivity.
  • Mirroring: Subtly mirroring the other person's body language can build rapport and establish trust.
  • Active Listening: Nodding, maintaining eye contact, and using encouraging phrases demonstrate that you're actively listening and engaged in the conversation.


By consciously practicing these techniques, HR professionals can bridge the communication gap and ensure their message is received as intended.

Building a Culture of Feedback: Companies Leading the Way

Forward-thinking companies are creating a culture of open communication and feedback that extends to nonverbal cues. Here are a few examples:

  • Salesforce: The cloud computing giant offers training programs on nonverbal communication, helping HR professionals understand the impact of their body language and how to use it effectively.
  • Adobe: Adobe encourages employees to provide constructive feedback on each other's communication style, including nonverbal cues, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.
  • Workday: The human capital management software company utilizes a peer coaching program where HR professionals can practice their communication skills and receive feedback on their nonverbal cues in a safe, supportive environment.


These companies recognize the importance of clear, congruent communication in building trust and fostering a positive work environment.

WebHR: Your Partner in Effective Communication

WebHR, a leading provider of HR solutions, offers tools that facilitate clear and multi-channel communication between HR professionals and employees. Their platform allows for asynchronous communication, providing opportunities for both parties to carefully consider their message and craft a consistent verbal and nonverbal response.

By implementing these strategies and leveraging the power of technology, HR professionals can become masters of communication, ensuring their messages are not only heard but also understood and acted upon, fostering a more positive and productive work environment for everyone.