The Value of the Non-Verbal

TrustED school leaders demonstrate clear communication through what they say and write (i.e. content), but also through how they say it (i.e. non-verbal elements). Some studies have concluded that there is typically a 40-60% loss of meaning in message transmission between sender and receiver.[1] “Clear communication is difficult for another reason. Some studies suggest that over ninety percent of the meaning we derive comes from nonverbal cues that one person gives to another. That means only ten percent of communication is based on words we say!”[2] A lack of clear communication generates the vast majority of conflicts within an organization.[3] Nonverbal elements of communication must always be considered, especially when attempting to motivate faculty members toward change.

Principals can tell teachers during a faculty meeting that they need to work on incorporating more technology into their teaching and experience the teachers leaving that meeting either saying, “My principal doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t care what she says anymore,” or, “Wow, my principal has given me some real food for thought today. I need to think carefully about the points she made.” The deciding factor is how we, as instructional leaders, present our constructive criticism to the teacher.[4]

The old adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it” is fundamental to effective communication. Corporal expressions (i.e. body language), the setting (i.e. the environment), the means of transmission (i.e. the methodology) are elements that make or break both reception and response.

People remember the emotional elements of communication most. Studies show a large portion of any course content is quickly forgotten.[5] What is retained is the non-verbal, or the emotional elements. Therefore, trusted leaders are mindful that the medium (i.e. the method and the way they communicate), is largely the message.

©2016 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.


[1] “The Communication Process,” The Importance of Effective Communication, accessed 5 July 2012,

[2] Horsager, The Trust Edge, 848-850, Kindle.

[3] Allen Allnoch, “Clarity, communication reduces corporate conflict,” IIE Solutions 30, no. 2 (1998): 8.

[4] Shelly Arneson, Communicate & Motivate: The School Leader’s Guide to Effective Communication (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2011), 134-135, Kindle.

[5] Robert V. Lindsey, Jeffery D. Shroyer, Harold Pashler, and Michael C. Mozer, “Improving students’ long-term knowledge retention through personalized review,” Psychological Science 25, no. 3 (2014): 639-647.


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