Special Report
School & District Management

7 Ways School Leaders Can Master Nonverbal Communication

By Apoorvaa Mandar Bichu — September 26, 2022 3 min read
Tight crop of leaders or educators talking with diverse colleagues.
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Leaders should understand nonverbal communication and be able to control it.

That’s according to Ruby Nadler, a leadership coach and mindfulness program director at SIGMA Assessment Systems, who spoke with Education Week about the messages we send without words, through body language, facial expressions, and more.

“It helps you to convey whether you’re trustworthy, your sincerity, and even whether you’re lying,” said Nadler, who has a Ph.D in cognition and perception. “We’re really gauging all of that in our interactions with others, largely unconsciously.”

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Here’s a few ways she suggests school leaders can use nonverbal communication to improve interactions and get their message across:

1. Ensure your body language reflects what you’re saying

Make sure what you’re saying out loud is aligned with what your body language is conveying.

“Get your nonverbal communication to the purpose of why you’re speaking or what you’re trying to do, whether it’s persuasion, motivation, things like that,” Nadler said.

She suggests school leaders keep an open posture when communicating with coworkers, and make consistent eye contact. They should make sure their hand gestures and facial expressions are aligned with what they are saying.

According to her, since nonverbal communication is largely unconscious, many people have never practiced being mindful of it.

“That’s why there’s a lot of advice around it, because our nonverbal communication is handled by our unconscious mind,” Nadler said.

2. Pay attention to your daily communication habits

Nadler suggests taking note of how you communicate nonverbally in your day-to-day routine. For example:

  • What’s your tone of voice? How do you sound?

  • Is your posture open or closed? Are you facing the person you are speaking to, with your hands apart? Or are you angled away, with arms crossed? Are you leaning in or away when talking to someone? (That can convey interest in a conversation or a lack thereof.)

  • What is your eye contact like? Too little or too much eye contact can make the person you’re interacting with uncomfortable, according to Nadler. A steady gaze can help put the person at ease.
  • What emotion are you conveying with your facial expression?

Visualization by Gina Tomko/Education Week

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3. Get input on how you communicate

Ask the people around you for feedback on how you communicate in the workplace, since they are in close proximity and can notice things you may not have otherwise picked up on, according to Nadler.

For example, after giving an interview, your colleague can let you know if you could have done more to make a good impression.

4. Control your posture and facial expression

“I’m sure you’ve been in situations where someone’s giving a speech to someone and you can tell that they’re not sincere, or that they’re not very enthusiastic,” Nadler said.

By recognizing how you’re feeling and how it affects your facial expressions and posture, you can begin to deliberately practice having a mastery over those things, she said.

5. Modulate your tone of voice

Leaders can practice speaking in a tone of voice that is comfortable to use but still conveys authority, Nadler suggests.

“Paying attention to things like: what is the tone of voice? How quickly do you talk? Where do you put an emphasis on words?” she said. “Practicing those things can be helpful for conveying appropriate authority and just the meaning of what you’re trying to say.”

6. Be mindful of challenging situations

Educators are reeling from the repercussions of the pandemic. Teacher job satisfaction hit an all-time low this year. And school leaders are facing a staffing crisis. Those stressors make it even more crucial for school leaders to be mindful of how they communicate with staff.

“‘Okay, I’m talking to a group of teachers who have been through a lot in the last two years. How do I want to show up?’” Questions like these can help leaders harness their power more effectively,” said Nadler.

7. Signal empathy and authenticity

According to Nadler, when people in a position of power want to show that they care, they should avoid appearing closed off.

Keep an open posture, said Nadler, and make more eye contact when communicating with staff.

At the end of the day, Nadler says, “there’s no getting around being passionate and empathetic towards others.”

Little changes to incorporate supportive nonverbal communication could be key to making valuable connections.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2022 edition of Education Week as 7 Ways School Leaders Can Master Nonverbal Communication


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