We often think about nonverbal communications as only encompassing body language, but that is a very narrow view. In fact, anything that communicates, which sends a message that is not a word, however slight or nuanced, is a “nonverbal” message.

We are bombarded by images (subtle and not so subtle) all day long and they influence how we behave and our perceptions. A politician taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves sends a message: “I am like you and I will work for you.” That’s why we see those images every election year. Similarly a Mont Blanc pen or Patek Philippe watch communicate something in their own right about their owners (Navarro 2008).

A well lit gas station, research shows, encourages you to refill there because it appears more secure. The clean and orderly façade of the local bank attracts you to leave your money in a place worthy of your hard work. In both instances billions of dollars are affected by the “curb side appeal” (nonverbal message) of the business.

One of the things that communicates effectively how we feel about others is what I refer to as “movement to action.” A baby, within days, begins to notice movement in her environment, especially from her mother and caregivers. She responds not just to the movement but also to movement which acts in her behalf such as feeding. Very quickly the baby learns to differentiate between mere movement and movement to action which satisfies her needs and visibly puts a smile on her face. As we get older our yearning for movement to action increases as we seek a treat or a toy, or any number of things to meet our expectations or gratification.

As I explain in “Louder Than Words (Harper Collins), movement to action is a nonverbal that sends a powerful message, in the same way that a mother running to greet a child with open arms sends a powerful message. It is a physical act which says I care, and is in the interest of others and seeks to benefit them first and foremost.

When bank managers or account managers, for example, get up and move to greet old and new customers, those customers rate their experiences significantly higher than if they are merely met by someone behind a counter. In my studies, I found that where clients were greeted by a receptionist who stood to greet them, rather than just sitting behind the desk, this had lasting positive effects in how those clients felt that day and several days later. It makes sense, we feel special when people move to action on our behalf and it makes us feel appreciated. The renowned Ritz-Carlton leadership training course emphasize taking action as soon as possible.

Other examples of movement to action include seeking to resolve issues as quickly as possible and even apologizing for mistakes immediately. Doctors who admit immediately they made a mistake are less likely to get sued than those who delay making any kind of statements or who do not apologize at all.

Delays in action, or failure to move to action at all, is precisely what has Toyota in hot water right now with their failure to take correct complaints about errant accelerator pedals. Toyota and all its dealers are paying a heavy price monetarily, in company loyalty, and in reputation, all because of their failure to move to action. Failure to act translates into failure to care; fatal for any business and in some cases, as with Toyota, fatal to some customers.

Movement to action makes us feel that we are being taken care of. And interestingly, even if you should fail in your efforts, the fact that you immediately moved to action, often serves to satisfy customers. The effort is what matters.

We even find that jurors, tend to look upon attorneys with greater empathy, when those same attorneys stand as they jurors come into the room (Navarro 2005). This rise to action, which demonstrates respect, can and does influence individuals and not just in business or the courtroom.

Social relations can be deeply affected by failure to move to action. In fact failure to move to action often turns into perceptions of indifference, which is really destructive in interpersonal relations; be it between lovers or parents and children.

A loved one who is greeted as the car pulls in has a different experience then one who has to find their partner somewhere in the house. Again failure to act can translate over time into failure to care.

The lessons my mother taught me about movement to action are ever fresh in my mind. When someone came to the door the whole family got up to greet them. We immediately sought to make them feel at home and attend to them (the “comfort dividend” I will write about next time). These things spoke silently but powerfully that they were welcome in our home and that we were united in our sentiments.

Movement to action is a nonverbal, one that not only communicates a message but does so powerfully. Keep that in mind next time you want to positively influence others be it at home or at work.

For additional information see the below bibliography. For additional bibliographic references please go to www.jnforensics.com and ask for a more comprehensive free bibliography. You can also follow me on twitter at: @navarrotells.


Navarro, Joe. 2010. Louder than words: take your career from average to exceptional with the hidden power of nonverbal intelligence. New York : Harper Collins.

Navarro, Joe. 2008. What Every Body Is Saying. New York: Harper Collins.

Navarro, Joe. 2005. Your stage presence: nonverbal communication. In Successful Trial Strategies for Prosecutors. Candace M. Mosley ed., Columbia, South Carolina: National College of District Attorneys: 13-19.

Copyright © 2010, Joe Navarro

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