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The Lost Handshake: Guide to Non-Verbal Communication Powered by the Covid-19

Finally closing the Google search for “20 songs about construction” that I opened while I was trying to set a poetic approach to my last article featuring similarities between building a house and business analysis, I will now be moving on to the “I wanna hold your hand” topic.

Actually, what I would like to address more closely is how to deal with the lack of or overload with non-verbal signs in the “new normal” and how to handle it in general.

Feel free to hop on… It might become interesting; (with no pop-song subtitles this time).
(For the confused reader, I am referring to my post on Business Analysts.)


Judging from the study conducted by the UCLA, just a tiny portion of our communication is contributed to the words we speak. Around 55% percent of the things we communicate can be read from our body language, the tone of voice contributes to about 38%, and the words carry only 7% of communication experience.

So, what does this mean in real life and how to address this data? And, moreover – what does it have to do with business analysis?

 

The answer is – a lot! Working as a business analyst frequently means working in cross-functional teams comprising of analysts, developers and project managers. To some extent, this represents a group of people not speaking each other’s “language”. There are also various clients, sometimes all from different business areas, with different backgrounds and communication styles, that need to be finely tuned with the rest of the team – to get the perfect end result we all aspire to.
Mastering the skill of understanding the body language can be a valuable asset to a business analyst, as well as any human being. Now try to bring this complex situation in this “new normal”… Huh, right?

There are some universal key points on how to handle yourself in
business situations in general:

 

  • ✔️ Focus on your posture – one of the first things people will notice when they are talking to another human is the way they are holding themselves. Posture is key in situations where you want to demonstrate your positive characteristics, such as self-confidence and assertiveness. People are much more drawn to people that have an “open posture” – arms spread, spine straightened and legs uncrossed. When you cross your arms and legs, you ooze the lack of self-confidence and might very well repel the person you are communicating with.
  • ✔️ Be aware of your facial expressions – a simple smile can go a long way. If you want your colleague or business partner to feel more relaxed when they talk to you, the best thing you can do is smile. By smile, I don’t mean the Grinch grin after finally being able to steal Christmas – but a soft, pleasant, moderate smile. A smile is an instant tension remover in any conversation, and if combined with mirroring can be a powerful tool of successful and pleasant conversation. Mirroring is a method of mimicking the behaviour of the person you are talking to. If they are relaxed, try to be relaxed, too. On the other hand, if they are serious, handle yourself with seriousness too- this will let them know the issues are being handled with care.

    smile
  • ✔️Making eye contact – this is a very important element in business communication. Once you have perfected a perfect smile and a good posture, the key is to be attentive when looking at people you are communicating with.Eye to eye contact indicates that you are giving the person you are talking to your undivided attention and respect. It is said that appropriate time to be making eye contact during a conversation is about 70% (of course, this is hard to assess in a real-life situation), but be sure you are not staring – as it can be mistranslated as a threat or a seduction.
  • ✔️Practice your handshake – many experts agree that a handshake says a lot about a person. Most of the people are aware that a proper handshake is important if you are on a job interview or you are getting ready for an important business meeting. Nobody likes soggy handshakes, and no one likes being handed something that resembles a dead fish instead of a welcoming hand. On the other hand, no one likes having to go to the ER having to realign their knuckles, after meeting with a too strong of a handshake person. This is why it is important to practice your handshake until you make it a perfect representation of what you actually are.

But what about now, when introvert’s deepest dreams are becoming a reality? Now, when a mere idea of the perfect handshake is “so last year”. How to go about it in the season of social distancing, home office working and continuous virtual meetings?

 

What is the virtual version of the perfect handshake? Some tips may include:

 

✔️Back away from your screen – sure you are celebrating that your colleagues can not see the legs you have crossed in your pj’s shorts, but allow them to see as much of your body as possible still keeping a focus on your posture (as you would if this had been a live interaction).

✔️Be aware of your facial expressions – smile. Being converted into a binary code can sometimes amplify all of your reactions. This will happen especially if you haven’t applied the rule no 1 and backed away from the screen – your head will show even the slightest grin that might cross your face, letting other meeting participants thing you are bored or disagreeing on what had been said.

✔️Don’t use ambiguous body language – as your facial expressions might get amplified, so can your body language get lost in translation via virtual platforms. Try to use only clear symbols, a thumb up when you agree or a raised hand when you want to say something. Avoid intensive use of your hands as it might be distractive, and skip comfortably slipping in your chair – you are not on vacation. Use a head tilt and lean in slightly to show interest.

Do remember and keep in mind that there are some cultural differences in non-verbal communication, even within the EU countries. For example – a simple hand gesture like 👌 has several meanings throughout cultures. In Japan, this means “money”, in the USA this is a sign for “ok”, Argentinians, Belgians, Portuguese and French use this sign as a symbol for “zero” or “nothing”. Some countries consider this an offensive swear, so be sure to use gestures that highlight the exact idea you want to convey.

✔️Make eye contact– O.K., we are all aware that this is not the same as sitting in the same room, but try to look at the camera, rather than looking at your speaking face. This will give an impression to other participants you are talking to them – as opposed to practicing the expressions to become the next big social media influencer.

Watch and listen closely to the other participants and have patience – since there is a big part of non-verbal communication being muted in this work-mode, it might take them a bit longer to explain some things.

✔️Do not write or read e-mails or do other things – even though you think no one can see you doing other things while in an online meeting, you are wrong. Would you be taking out your cellphone and chat during a live meeting? Would you open your laptop in the middle of someone’s presentation and start answering your e-mails? If no, then avoid it during virtual meetings. You are not being busy and super productive – you are actually being pretty rude.

✔️Mind your tone and voice pitch – despite numerous distractions or poor sound quality, you are not supposed to yell. Try to keep a steady tone of voice and speak in clear, simple sentences. This will make you look trustworthy and competent.

✔️Do not show at virtual meetings inappropriately dressed – sure, no one can see you turning up in your pajama pants, but they can see you turning up in pajama tops and they can still see your uncombed hair. Even though this remote workplace did provide us with a certain uplift of a laid-back atmosphere, there is still a professional way to approach your appearance. Try at least taking a glance at a mirror before a meeting and imagine if this is the image you want to present on that occasion – this will help you decide on making image improvements (if necessary).

 

But what about a handshake – what is the alternative?

It is said that you can’t make the first impression second time around. Try keeping this in mind. Sure, you will not be able to shake hands (for what seems) a long time to come, but if you carefully align all the other non-verbal communication skills and make them your assets, a lost handshake could make way for a whole new set of first impressions.

And it works for all parties affected: analysts, clients, management, developers and beyond.

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