In the early 1970’s, a researcher named Albert Mehrabian first posited what has since become known as ‘The 7-38-55 Rule’. According to Mehrabian’s research, the actual words spoken by a person account for only 7% of what is actually being communicated by them.
For Mehrabian, a person’s tone of voice accounts for 38% of communication, while facial expressions and body language make up a whopping 55% of the information being conveyed.
At first glance, these numbers seem slightly ‘off’. However, even that reaction can be taken as a demonstration of just how ubiquitous nonverbal communication really is.
Nonverbal communication surrounds us wherever we go, so much so that we don’t even really notice it.
…Unless we learn to consciously look for it, that is.
Still not convinced? That’s OK.
Let’s take two hypothetical people, put them on a fictional street and give them an imaginary conversation. We’ll call them ‘Billy’ and ‘Sally’.
Billy turns to Sally and says, “so, looking forward to your birthday next week?”
Sally places her hands on her hips and flatly says “oh yes, I can’t wait to turn 50. Yippee”
From the description of her tone of voice and body language, we can infer that Sally is not at all excited for her birthday, even though her choice of words clearly suggests otherwise.
Let’s re-play the scene, this time without the inclusion of Sally’s tone and body language information.
Billy turns to Sally and says, “so, looking forward to your birthday next week?”
Sally replies “oh yes, I can’t wait to turn 50. Yippee”
As you can see, we might now think that Sally isn’t happy about her birthday, but we don’t actually know for sure.
This may go some way towards explaining why so many people get into arguments over the internet!
The way we communicate without words impacts all areas of our lives. From our personal relationships with others to our general rate of career progression.
For these working in the field of security, an understanding of nonverbal communication skills, as both a reader of people as well as an effective communicator, is pretty vital.
In this feature, we hope to set you on the path to becoming a better communicator and thus, an even better security professional.
The Main Points
The term ‘nonverbal communication’ isn’t strictly limited to body language. Communication occurs in a variety of ways. While certain positions and movements do send particular nonverbal signals (e.g., A person who has their arms folded across the chest may be unimpressed, uncomfortable or otherwise withdrawn), a lot of meaning is also conveyed through the face, as well as the tone of voice.
Human beings often look to one another’s facial expressions in order to decipher a person’s true intentions and determine whether or not they can be trusted.
We’ve all heard the expression ‘poker face’, which basically
describes the act of conveying neutrality via the face so that others cannot tell from your expressions what cards you have or, in a wider context, what you may be thinking or planning.
Again, this speaks directly to the prevalence of nonverbal communication skills.
On an evolutionary level, we gauge the intentions and trustworthiness of other humans by looking at their faces. This is why the ambiguity presented by people wearing masks or with certain facial features exaggerated (i.e., eyes that are too small or large or smiles that are too broad) tend to give us the creeps – they convey an ambiguity that isn’t enough to send us running scared, but definitely makes us uneasy.
It’s important also, to note what isn’t being said.
For a practical example, let’s return to our friends ‘Billy’ and ‘Sally’ and pre-suppose for the moment that they are involved in a romantic relationship.
Sally might turn to Billy and say something like,
“Billy, you’ve always been faithful to me, right?”
Billy may reply with, “of course I have. I love you”
Sally may then ask, “…But have you ever thought about cheating?”
Billy remains silent.
By saying nothing, Billy hasn’t actually confessed to anything. However, Sally will likely still see this as an admission of guilt from Billy, even though no words were spoken by Billy at all. The absence of a statement of innocence is often seen as a sign of guilt. So, as you can hopefully see, what isn’t being said can sometimes be as important as what is being said.
Good luck, Billy!
As you can see, when it comes to verbal interactions between two people, so much more is said around the words than by them.
Many high-profile politicians and public speakers are briefed on how to use their body language effectively. You might wonder why some politicians, though not appearing to be especially intelligent or loquacious, are still popular enough to win elections.
In such cases, these politicians have often mastered how to communicate nonverbally. Gestures such as smirking, shaking their head or rolling their eyes while their opponent is talking, sends the signal that the other person is foolish, lying or otherwise untrustworthy, even though no words are being said by them.
In many cases, a politician may have been summarily discredited in point-by-point debate and yet still convey the impression that he or she has triumphed simply by using these methods.
Whenever you talk to anyone, you’re conveying wordless signals to them. In the vast majority of cases, these will be unconscious on your part, yet they exist nonetheless, informing both your evaluation of the person with whom you’re speaking as well as their evaluation of you.
Appearance & First Impressions
The old saying “first impressions last” is actually fairly accurate. However, it also simplifies a very complex process.
First impressions are, in actuality, shaped by any number of factors, including past experiences, complex neurological processes, physical attractiveness and the collection of cultural assumptions, biases and stereotypes that we have all been exposed to since birth.
A person’s body language, facial features and physical appearance are all important parts of a first impression.
It takes less than 1/10th of a second to formulate an evaluation of another person’s face, which is the first thing we notice when confronted by another human being.
Studies have shown that people with broader, rounder faces and softer features are considered to be kinder and more honest than those with pointed, angular features, who are considered to be more intelligent but also less trustworthy.
There is absolutely no scientific basis for these assumptions and yet, they exist and persist, affecting people in every aspect of their lives, from job interviews to their pursuit of a mate.
Unsurprisingly, nonverbal communication skills are the most important part of a first impression. Believe it or not, a person’s clothing and hair style may also be considered a form of nonverbal communication.
Clothing that is obviously expensive is an indicator of wealth and prosperity, such as in ancient Rome when the colour purple was all the rage and only the rich could wear it. Ragged, ill-fitting clothing and matted, unkempt hair are signs of poverty and desperation. Likewise, accessories such as jewellery or watches may also be seen as symbols of success and material wealth.
Essentially, a person who smiles often and makes use of open, approachable body language, is likely to make a much better first impression than someone who doesn’t. If that person is also smartly dressed and presentable, they are likely to make an even better first impression – and all that without saying a word!
The human brain also creates a number of ‘shortcuts’ when encountering different people. In effect, we file them into categories based on their immediate physical features. This may include gender, sex, race, age, occupation or other visually obvious features. This process is called ‘social categorisation’.
Social categorisation is a largely unconscious process – and it happens very quickly. Although very useful from an evolutionary standpoint, the process can unfortunately lead to stereotyping, prejudice and bigotry.
Psychologists have repeatedly proven that human beings, as highly social animals, tend to favour living in groups. When human beings are defined by their membership of a specific group (e.g., support for a particular football club, holding a set of political opinions, working for a company or organisation or belonging to a family, to state just a few examples), there is a need among us to favour the ‘in’ group (that to which we feel we belong). This often occurs at the expense of the ‘out’ group. When the ‘in’ group is seen along racial, cultural, orientational or sex/gender lines, the result can be prejudicial, either knowingly or un-knowingly.
Door supervisors must be especially careful not to allow themselves to be biased or prejudiced against others by dint of their physical appearance.
In some instances, the signs that a person is clearly dangerous or antisocial will be evident, in others, it’s important to rationalise the ‘gut instinct’ you may have towards a potential patron. Why do you think this person is untrustworthy? Are you basing your opinion of them on justifiable evidence or are you simply being prejudiced against them because of how they look?
It is important also for door supervisors to project the image of a solid, trustworthy and honest presence. This is why so many security companies place such a strong emphasis on their employees’ hairstyles, uniforms and general appearance.
You want to be seen as capable of self-defence, rather than as intimidating, as approachable, rather than standoffish and above all, as being fully capable of discharging your duties. This approach will help to discourage would-be troublemakers and encourage the right kind of patrons, i.e., those who simply wish to enjoy their evening and not give anyone a hard time.
As a form of nonverbal communication, posture is very important. Walking with strong, deliberate steps, while keeping your back straight and your head held high sends the message that you are in charge without you having to say it out loud.
It is important also not to simply apply these techniques if or when you are compelled to action, but to always employ deliberate body language techniques. The reason for this is that while you may be making your first impression of the person with whom you are now interacting, they may already have seen you and formulated their own impression based on your nonverbal cues. If you were drooped over, with your head hanging low when they first saw you, but then corrected your posture when you came toward them, they will understand your posture as being a falsehood, instead of an accurate impression of your personal authority. In such cases, it will be harder for you to earn their respect.
There are many postures the human body can adopt – and each has an ascribed meaning that we understand on a subconscious level. Upright posture, for example, demonstrates confidence and leadership. Leaning forwards in a person’s direction indicates caring on your part.
Slouching, on the other hand, expresses a sense of apathy, while hunching your shoulders shows that you lack confidence or conviction (for example, the shrug). Fidgeting is also generally something to avoid, as it conveys a nervous energy and suggests that you aren’t really paying attention to the other person or situation.
Interpreting non verbal communication and the posture of others further enables effective communication. A person who’s head is drooping, for example, is being submissive. They may also demonstrate sadness or disappointment in this fashion. A person holding their head back slightly may be showing signs of aggression.
You might even try subtly influencing the other person by mimicking their own gestures and body language. This is a technique known as ‘mirroring’ and it can help to persuade people or slyly influence their actions and thinking. This technique can be employed to help defuse potentially violent situations.
One person’s proximity to another is a particularly intriguing form of nonverbal communication. The study of this aspect of communication is known as ‘proxemics’.
The four categories of proxemics are known as Intimate distance (defined as actually in contact, or no further than 45CM apart), Personal distance (45CM to 1.2M), Social distance (1.2 to 3.6M – more on this one in a bit) and Public distance (3.7 to 4.5M).
Obviously, this entire section is going to be especially important in a post-pandemic world, so let’s explore that aspect first.
Since 2020, the term ‘social distancing’ has entered into popular usage. It is, of course, very important for the safety of both security personnel and patrons that at least 2 metres’ distance be put between you and any member of the general public at all times.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic rocked the world last year, we’ve all become very much more aware of the distance we keep between one another and people are vastly less likely to respond negatively to greater distances between them and others. In fact, they will probably prefer it and see it as a gesture of consideration on your part.
Taking COVID-19 out of the equation, your distance from another person will always send nonverbal messages. Invading a person’s space and ‘getting up in their face’, as one expression has it, is most often interpreted as a sign of aggression. However, it can also simply demonstrate overfriendliness or a misunderstanding of personal boundaries, as in the case of Elaine’s boyfriend Aaron, (better known as the ‘close talker’) from TV’s ‘Seinfeld’. Physical closeness may also infer intimacy and/or a desire for secrecy.
Maintaining a personal distance when having a conversation is considered normal nonverbal behavior, though other laws of nonverbal communication will always apply.
Social distance (in proxemic, rather than pandemic, terminology) is by far the most appropriate distance apart for two people who do not have a particularly close relationship and are working together or simply occupying the same personal space at the same time (e.g., at the supermarket).
Public distance would be kept by a person appearing before a group of people (e.g., a schoolteacher teaching a class, or a manager giving a presentation).
Although you may be aware of these basic societal assumptions on an instinctual or ‘gut’ level (and, frankly, it would be slightly odd if you weren’t), it really helps to have a conscious, working knowledge of proxemics if you’re working as a door supervisor – or anywhere else in the security industry.
Tone of Voice
Tone of voice was one of the areas that Dr. Mehrabian deemed most important to communication overall. A wealth of information can be conveyed by a person’s tone, to the point that we can have conversations over the phone without seeing one another in person and still understand a lot of the meaning and complexities of that conversation.
In general, we recommend that door supervisors use a passive, gentle tone of voice when interacting with the general public (especially in the case of those who are upset for one reason or another). You shouldn’t let yourself become excessively loud, but you definitely should speak up enough so that you can be heard.
The bulk of the people with whom you will come into contact in a professional capacity are going to be relatively benign. It will be people looking to meet with friends or indulge in an evening’s entertainment.
There is no need, nor should there be any desire, to intimidate such people. To do so is bad for business overall and, in fact, is more likely to deter the decent customers and attract an undesirable element to the venue.
There will be times, however, when you will need to ‘speak up’ and ‘lay down the law’. That too is part of the job. You can do this by adopting a deeper, more assertive tone, as well as following the advice laid down in this feature. In such cases, while certain words and phrases will have a greater effect than others, it is your tone of voice that counts the most.
Firstly, it is important to slow down. When nervous or excited, many people either ‘clam up’ entirely or else become complete chatterboxes. However, if you look to the example of people who impart information for a living, you will see that their speech patterns are rarely quick and chirpy.
From a politician giving a speech, to a TV presenter explaining the subject of their show, or an actor delivering his or her lines for maximum effect, careful, deliberate word formation is always key.
Obviously, you will have a lot of people to speak to, so you can’t speak too slowly, but it is generally good advice to slow down a little and place a bit of extra emphasis on the words you’re speaking as you’re speaking them. This will help you to be understood better and to convey information much more clearly.
Lower pitched voices are generally associated with authority. Think of the voices of actors such as James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman. These actors frequently portray authority figures on screen and we don’t really question why. Aside from their obvious acting talents, it is mainly because these performers speak with powerful, lower-pitched voices.
Of course, everybody’s voice is different. Some people have a naturally higher-pitched voice (here we may turn to another example from ‘Seinfeld’, namely that of Dan the High-Talker). However, most of us have the ability to lower our tone of voice, at least a little. It’s worth practicing this if you wish to become a better communicator.
Authority is achieved via a multitude of factors, including confidence, clear speech and a strong emphasis on words that are especially important or relevant. However, tone of voice is easily as important as these other factors in conveying a sense of gravitas or importance.
Another useful technique is to allow your tone to lower slightly at the end of sentences. A raised tone at the end of a sentence indicates that a question is coming, which can make you appear unsure or insecure. A lower tone demonstrates confidence in both yourself and the statement you’re making.
Speech therapists recommend speaking more from your chest than your head, before ultimately finding a neat balance between the two.
It’s useful also to try to lean less on “uhm”s, “ahh”s, “like”s and “y’know”s (or similar) as these placeholders can cause you to sound unsure of yourself or like you don’t know what you’re talking about. It can be hard to break these habits, especially if they have insinuated themselves into your regular speech patterns. However, with practice, they can be banished – and you’ll be amazed at how differently people respond to you once they are.
Here’s an example that uses a couple of the techniques we’ve examined in this section.
If Billy and Sally are in bed one night and about to go to sleep and Sally says “Billy, did you lock the door?”
Billy should reply with a tight, concise “yes” or “yes I did”. In this way, he’s putting Sally’s mind at ease and affirming that he has indeed locked the door.
However, if he answers, “Uhm…Yes?” she’ll definitely doubt that he did it, even though both answers are essentially the same.
Speaking is hard for many people. There’s a reason that public speaking often ranks alongside (or even above!) death in surveys of things people are most afraid of!
In addition to general social anxiety, a phenomenon which is on the rise in this post-lockdown environment, a lot of people suffer from low self-esteem and low self-confidence. In these cases, it can be hard to project our best selves into the world with any kind of authority, especially when most people are now more used to communicating via phone, text message or email.
As a security professional, it’s important to remember that you are in a position of authority already. For the most part, people respect the uniform you’re wearing, as well as the job you’re doing, so you’re two thirds of the way there before you need to apply any of this advice.
The term ‘body language’ gets thrown around a lot, but it isn’t always that well understood. A basic knowledge of body language might be the understanding that shrugging or slouching indicates disinterest and that arms folded across the chest shows that the person is withdrawn, uncomfortable or possibly hostile. This is all fairly accurate, but there is a lot more to body language than just the positioning of the body or limbs.
Technically, body language as a concept encompasses any non verbal signals sent, intentionally or otherwise, by the body. This includes rolling your eyes sarcastically, avoiding a person’s gaze or shaking your head when the other person is talking.
If Billy is talking to Sally and Sally pulls her phone out and starts checking her social media, she is sending a message of disinterest to Billy, even though she may actually be listening intently to every word he’s saying. She may even act surprised when Billy gets upset by her actions.
Basic body language is so pervasive and universally understood that you can follow a silent movie, or even a movie in a foreign language, without needing to understand everything that’s going on. The basics are all there on the screen.
Indeed, comic book artists are trained to use the poses and facial expression of the characters they draw in order to impart many of the subtleties of the story that, in prose, would need to be made overt in words.
Gesticulating is, of course, another key form of body language. Some people gesticulate a lot, while others don’t do it so much, but we all gesticulate to some extent. Hands are important tools when it comes to body language. A closed fist may indicate resolve or aggression, while an open palm could denote friendship or acceptance.
Placing a hand on the chest or over the heart may indicate sincerity (though not necessarily honesty), while placing both hands behind your back exposes your chest and stomach area – and therefore denotes confidence. Pointing a finger at a specific person can be a sign of authority or aggression, while holding both palms up is usually a positive salutation.
The broadest and best example of communication by hand would, of course, be sign language, which is hand communication refined to an incredibly precise and intricate level.
A door supervisor who is aware of his or her own body language is not only going to be better at spotting potential problems (e.g., people who may be about to act aggressively, or another person who is experiencing problems of one kind or another), they will also be vastly better at communicating authority when needed, as well as applying diplomatic solutions to situations that might otherwise become aggressive or violent.
General tips for better use of body language include maintaining eye contact, nodding while another person is talking to indicate that you are listening to and understanding them (this demonstrates respect), adopting an open posture and not touching your face (it is seen as a gesture that you are untrustworthy).
When another person is telling us something, we routinely search their face for clues as to the veracity of what they are saying. Although some people are very good at masking their true feelings, either with a neutral, blank expression or via an expression in better alignment with the sentiments they are attempting to convey (e.g., forcing a smile at a funeral), most of us aren’t particularly adept at hiding our true feelings via our facial expressions.
The human face will routinely display so-called micro-expressions that pass across the face fairly rapidly (they typically last between 0.5 and 4 seconds). They are almost always involuntary, but will always reveal our true feelings.
According to researcher Dr. Paul Elkman, there are 7 universal facial expressions that transcend pretty much all borders and boundaries, be they geographic, cultural or based on race or gender.
These fleeting micro-expressions are so all-pervasive that certain turns-of-phrase, such as “you seem a bit down in the mouth”, correspond exactly to the universal expression for sadness, the mouth drooping being the expression that indicates that a person is about to start crying.
You might also consider the expressions “a twinkle in the eye” or “he smiled with his eyes” as being particularly salient, as a true, authentic smile involves the muscles just below the eyes and only 1 in 10 people have the ability to actually fake this.
Although this phenomenon was first described by researchers Haggard and Isaacs, it was Elkman who coined the term ‘micro-expression’ and produced much of the more in-depth work on this phenomenon.
Elkman’s research has even shown that congenitally blind people still exhibit the same micro-expressions as sighted people, even though they have never actually seen the face of another human being.
Subsequent research has also proved that appropriate facial expressions, though caused by emotions, can also cause different emotional states to occur. This is known as ‘the facial feedback hypothesis’ – and it means that the oh-so-annoying person who tells you to smile when you’re ticked off may have a point after all!
Person perception is the name given to the process of learning about other people. It’s a process that begins in infancy. Studies have shown that babies and young children prefer looking at faces than patterns or other visual stimuli – and that they are keen to follow and understand micro-expressions. So, we learn to read people’s expressions at the very beginning of our lives. In a sense, it’s almost the first thing we actually learn.
As stated earlier, human beings often make snap judgements about one another based on their faces. The three universal qualities that people look for in other faces are attractiveness, trustworthiness and dominance.
Attractiveness speaks directly to a person’s sexual desires (we all have them, so stop giggling at the back!) this could mean that we may be inclined to be friendlier or to offer preferential treatment to a person we find sexually attractive.
Trustworthiness describes a person’s apparent value to the community (i.e., if they ‘look’ like a good fit for a specific group, for example a nurse with a ‘kind’ face or a handsome actor).
Finally, dominance is all about conflict. If a person is deemed to appear aggressive or threatening, they may well be marginalised or otherwise avoided as an act of self or group preservation.
In 2016, a marketing firm named ‘Rise Digital’ created a composite image featuring the face of every American President up until that point. The result was an image that seemed so familiar that online pundits were lining up to compare it to sportscasters, famous actors and numerous others in the public eye.
Clearly, this was the face of an electable leader – and it fit a pattern. It said that these features were considered trustworthy, enlightened, responsible and decent and it spoke directly to the points being made in this section.
We talked earlier about faces that are human-like, but not quite ‘right’ being responsible for giving us a knee-jerk scare (how many horror movies have you seen that derived their scares from a person with a creepy face or someone wearing a mask? We’re willing to bet that it’s a lot).a
Another example is the oh-so-ubiquitous ‘alien face’, supposedly depicting the ‘grey aliens’ responsible for snatching people from their beds at night. It’s an interesting piece of modern folklore, but it’s relevant here because of the uniformity of this image. This face has been used on everything from t-shirts and toys to movies and TV series. There’s even an emoji based on it. But why is it so abiding, so salient? Why does it strike such a powerful note?
In 2003, a researcher named Fredrick Malmstrom effectively solved the mystery. The face, with its deep, black eyes and miniscule nose and mouth, is almost exactly how a newborn baby sees its mother’s face at birth. Similarly exaggerated faces recur often throughout various human cultures and are now considered to result from half-remembered birth trauma as opposed to anything otherworldly.
For a more positive example, look at the mega success of comic book artist Steve Ditko’s ‘Spider Man’ design.
The first thing a baby sees, in most cases, is its mother’s face. That weird, distorted image stays with us, stored in our subconscious minds for the duration of our lives. That’s how important faces are to us. They are a key component of how human beings navigate the world.
Door supervisors, by dint of having a lot of experience with the general public, may exhibit a ‘gut instinct’ about certain people or even speak of a kind of ‘sixth sense’ when it comes to reading people. This will largely come from a lot of time spent reading people’s faces and other forms of nonverbal communication.
You’ve probably heard the expression “the eyes are the window to the soul”, like so many other expressions, it originated with William Shakespeare. It is true that a person’s eyes can impart a large amount of emotional information at any given time.
Dilated pupils, outside of instances of low light or drug misuse, may indicate desire, whereas rapid blinking is sometimes interpreted as a sign of discomfort or distress. A person may blink more frequently after periods of trying not to blink for whatever reason, which can sometimes serve as a useful indicator of their true intentions.
Often, when people are lying, they will avoid eye contact with the person to whom they are lying. Some people, however, will stare unblinkingly into the other person’s eyes in order to convince them of the lie.
We usually notice another person’s eyes as we speak, as eye contact is an important aspect of nonverbal communication skills. People who suffer from shyness or more complicated social anxieties can often fail to meet another person’s gaze, which can slightly disrupt the flow of communication on both sides.
Maintaining eye contact is tricky and can sometimes require a degree of conscious control in order to get right. Maintaining eye contact with a speaker is a useful tool in active listening and good communication. It demonstrates respect and a level of interest in what the speaker is saying. However, firm, unblinking eye contact or prolonged eye contact can be construed as intimidating, and it makes most people uncomfortable after a while.
If a person’s gaze is inconsistent, maintaining eye contact for brief periods before shooting all over the place, this indicates that the person is distracted and not paying attention, even if they are.
The key here is to maintain eye contact for comfortable periods and break occasionally. If you do this, chances are the other speaker will do it as well (see: ‘mirroring’ above) and both speakers will leave a productive conversation feeling respected and listened to.
Gestures and Movement
Gestures often accompany verbal prompts. If Sally holds the door for Billy with one hand, she may gesture with an outstretched, open palm for Billy to enter. She may also prompt him with the words “after you”.
We talked earlier about ‘open’ postures and body language. Gestures such as uncrossing the arms or extending open palms (rather than closed fists) will do a lot to make people think of you as calm, friendly and approachable.
Security can be a dangerous occupation and diplomatic solutions to interpersonal conflicts are always safer and more preferable to forcibly removing a patron from the premises or getting the police involved. With firm but friendly body gestures and easy, relaxed movements, you can subtly control an escalating situation, even bringing some potentially difficult people around simply by listening to them and conversing openly with them. It won’t work every time, of course, but it will decrease your chances of being attacked or of patrons getting hurt.
Everyone has a different physicality – and we all use our bodies differently. Sometimes, we do this for dramatic effect. Look at the stiffness in Boris Karloff’s portrayal of Imhotep in the original version of ‘The Mummy’. When Karloff portrays the character prior to his mummification and death, he moves with the normal fluidity and easy motion of any healthy adult. However, after his resurrection, his movements are slow and pained, indicating that he is no longer entirely human. At the time, audiences were mesmerized by Karloff’s creepy performance, in part due to the actor upending the normal expectations of bodily movement.
Sudden, spasmodic movements, on the other hand, tend to put people on edge. It’s natural for us to flinch when encountering a sudden, violent motion, such as a school bully might perform before he or she gives you “two for flinching”.
A person who is moving in such a manner will find that others will be less inclined to gather near to them and will definitely be less likely to trust them.
Likewise, defensive postures, though comforting in situations that make you nervous, are not at all helpful for door supervisors, as they convey neither authority, nor self-assurance.
We see many door supervisors at work with their hands held together in front of their groin area or at the bottom of their jacket. This pose indicates defensiveness and can put others on edge, as well as slightly eroding confidence in the individual. The opposite position, with the hands behind the back, shows confidence and poise.
Look at national football teams before they sing their respective anthems – it’s all about showing confidence, coolness and capability – everything a security professional needs to do his or her job well.
Strategies for Improvement
According to Dr. Edward G. Wertheim, nonverbal communication cues can play five key roles. Within these roles lie some of the strategies through which the practical application of nonverbal communication techniques can work for you.
Repetition occurs in a nonverbal sense when nonverbal cues are used to repeat a piece of previously conveyed information. In this way, a simple gesture or motion may act as a stand-in for this verbal information, hammering the point home without becoming verbally repetitive. Politicians and public speakers do this all the time.
As an aside, only tangentially relevant here, but worth exploring nonetheless, verbal repetition of slogans or statements is a powerful tool for those who work in marketing, politics and/or all kinds of entertainment. This will often be accompanied by a particular nonverbal cue. If you look at political campaign slogans, or the catchphrases of popular characters in various areas of public performance or entertainment, you will see repetition used, both verbally and non verbally, with incredible regularity.
Even when it is verbal, repetition is often accompanied by signature, nonverbal cues (e.g., Bugs Bunny chewing on his carrot as he says “ehhh what’s up, Doc?” or ‘Family Guy’s Glenn Quagmire bobbing his head as he says “giggity giggity”). It increases familiarity with the person as well as their stance or position on things. The more you see such gestures, the more familiar and agreeable they tend to become.
Contradiction occurs when a person’s nonverbal cues differ significantly from their verbal statements. If Billy asks Sally if she’s alright and Sally affirms that she is, but does so with her head tilted downwards, her brow furrowed and her arms wrapped around her upper body, this, for Wertheim, is contradiction.
It might also be considered an example of contradiction if Billy is on the phone to his mother and says, “that’s really interesting”, whilst raising his eyebrows to Sally and pursing his lips.
Substitution is the act of nonverbal communication replacing verbal communication. If Billy asks Sally how her day was, and Sally replies with a scowl, but no words, she has still answered the question to some extent.
Complimenting is similar to repetition in that it reinforces the point being made by the speaker. This might include a pat on the back, a smile, or arms held aloft in celebration. It might also include a wagging finger or furrowed brow.
Accenting is the art of adding to the intent of the message with particular gestures, movements or facial expressions. A person running their fingers through their hair, then turning to face the wall with their arms by their sides is frustrated. Actions like these demonstrate said frustration and will help to convey those frustrations even as the person explains their feelings verbally.
You may find, for example, that accompanying the word “fight” with an outstretched fist adds extra emphasis to the resolution to fight a particular person or issue.
Each of these techniques can be highly useful in certain situations.
You may also practice positioning, which is the act of being at around the same eye level as the person with whom you are speaking. This demonstrates a willingness to listen and engage, as well as putting the other person at ease.
You might also wish to employ open body language when talking with customers or clients. This will include a relaxed posture, with arms and hands out and open. Again, this puts the other person at ease and makes them more receptive to what you’re trying to say.
Physical touch can also be useful. However, it is important to remember that this can easily be construed as assault under UK law (as we’ve explored elsewhere on this site). Touch should only ever be applied carefully, in instances to convey emotional support or friendship. Of course, touch is a tricky prospect in the post-pandemic era, but that’s a discussion for another time.
You should also trust your instincts when it comes to people’s basic intentions. Our understanding of nonverbal communication is fairly in-built and, as a result, if something seems indefinably ‘off’ about another person, it’s worth keeping that in mind.
It is vitally important that your verbal and nonverbal behaviors are brought into close alignment. To do so strengthens both your point and your presence. You will be better able to persuade, influence and guide people, as well as being in a far better position to get your own viewpoints across.
In the field of security, a mastery of nonverbal communication can not only greatly increase your effectiveness and efficiency, it can also help to keep you safer on the job.
By ensuring that your words and behaviours reinforce and complement one another, you can appear to be vastly more assured and assertive, causing potential troublemakers to think twice.
Such mastery can also help you avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication with colleagues, clients, customers and everybody else with whom you may come into contact.