How to Understand and Respond to Verbal and Nonverbal Messages in Business Analysis

Communication is key in any business analysis project. Most people believe that words are the communication of the message when, in fact, words make up only 7 percent of the message. Tone of voice and nonverbal communication make up the other 93 percent. As a business analyst, you should be familiar with the positives and pitfalls of common verbal and nonverbal communication, such as the following:

  • Be precise, direct, and accurate in your communications. Don’t be vague or confusing. If a message is unclear, the receiver interprets it negatively 90 percent of the time.

    Consider your reaction when your boss leaves you a voicemail at 4:30 on Friday telling you he wants to see you Monday morning. Chances are you go through the entire weekend trying to determine what you did wrong, and then when Monday comes around, he tells you a stakeholder passed along an “atta-boy” that he wanted to communicate to you.

    So you were worried all weekend for nothing. That’s what happens when communication is unclear.

  • Be aware of distracting nonverbal communications. Unnecessary movements, words, and even sounds take attention away from you and decrease the effectiveness of your communication. Think about how you present. Do you stand there comfortably and calmly or do you rock back and forth, look at your watch, and rattle change in your pocket?

    Know your habits and then seek to remove them as a barrier to the communication process. You may even need to enlist the help of a video camera so you can see yourself presenting, or have a friend to give you feedback. After all, you don’t want people to remember you for the number of times you looked at your watch rather than for the actual content of your presentation.

  • Make sure you spell-check everything. The effect of misspellings or typos may be more powerful than you realize. To you, it may just be a misspelled word, but if it’s in a slideshow presentation, you may have just lost your audience.

    Don’t believe it? If you’ve ever seen a misspelled word in a presentation, what did you do for the remainder of the meeting? You look for misspelled words. Yup. That presenter lost his audience.

    Instead of rereading your own communication, have an independent person read it. That person doesn’t know what it’s supposed to say, so he’s more likely to catch mistakes you missed.

Just as you need to be aware of the nonverbal messages you send, you also need to take note of the nonverbal messages you’re receiving. If you notice a disconnect between what the stakeholder says and the message he’s sending nonverbally, take some time to figure out where the disconnect is.

Say, for example, that he’s telling you he’s very open to your suggestions, but his folded arms and curt tone imply otherwise. You can take a moment to check in with him after the meeting, after everyone else is gone, or maybe send an e-mail later. Maybe he actually isn’t okay with the changes, and your check-in gives him a chance to express that.

Alternatively, you may find out that his nonverbals had nothing to do with the meeting but rather with a personal matter. Either way, following up and clarifying anything that doesn’t match up is always a good idea.

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