What’s Your Organizational Body Language Saying

Paul Barton Internal Communications Organizational Body Language

By Paul Barton, ABC

In the public speaking coaching side of my business, I often talk about how 80% to 90% of what we communicate as humans is done with our body language, not with our words. But what’s even more important to understand is that body language is more credible than our words.

Simply put, we believe the body more than the mouth.

The same is true for organizations and internal communications. Yes, 80% to 90% of what an organization communicates to its employees is done with its organizational body language, not with its words (formal employee communications). And, just like interpersonal communications, an organization’s body language is by far more credible than the words a company uses to communicate to its workforce.

So, what is organizational body language? It includes things like policies and procedures manuals, compensation and benefits programs, systems and processes, the number of resources and support, actual values, day-to-day priorities, trust, a willingness to listen, and the tone an organization takes when speaking to its own employees. Just like with people, the “unwritten rules” are the most credible — what does it take to get hired, what does it take to get promoted, and what does it take to get fired?

Companies make a lot of claims about how they value: employees, diversity, employee well-being, hard work and dedication, and so on. So the question of organizational body language comes down to this: Does what an organization says match up to the personal experience employees have?

Why It Matters and What We Can Do

So why does any of this matter to internal communications professionals? Because the gap between what an organization says and what it actually does is the single biggest determinant of how effective our internal communication efforts will be. It is key that we understand this alignment if we are going to fully engage employees and affect change. What is your organization’s body language saying? Is it different than your organizational plank messages?

As strategic internal communicators, it is our responsibility to recognize and point out credibility gaps and suggest ways that can help to narrow those gaps. We can’t always control what our organizations practice but we can directly impact what they preach. We can control the nuisance of our messages and we help our organizations determine their authentic internal brand voice.

It’s crucial that we do so. Because without credibility, a message has no value.


Andrew Bishop

about 4 years ago

I really like the premise of this article - that an organization communicates by a mix of explicit messaging and implicit activity. I would add to this that sometimes the breakdown between organizational words & actions can be caused by inappropriate choices of VALUES. ie. An organization decides on some values that sound good but which have little real buy-in from the executive team. The consequence is that no amount of messaging in support of the values leads to any reciprocal actions by people.

Paul Barton

about 4 years ago

Excellent points! I really like your contrasting "explicit messaging and implicit activity." Thank you for weighing in on this.

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