I work with a lot of leaders. Every one of them feels tremendous pressure to perform. They've got much more to do than could ever be accomplished in even a 12-hour day. And they're constantly juggling current deadlines with long-term priorities.

Maybe this stress is why many leaders act in ways that undermine their effectiveness--especially with their teams. For instance, in just the past few weeks I've seen leaders:

  • Talk about the importance of resolving a challenge, then leave the room "to take a quick call" while team members struggle to come up with a solution. By the time the leader returns, the team has cobbled something together, but the whole effort goes backward while the leader tries to catch up on what she's missed.
  • Invite a team member to present about an initiative, then act distracted (reviewing a paper, checking his smart phone) the entire time the person is presenting.
  • Proclaim that it's important to talk candidly about issues, but then exhibit cranky or angry body language--crossed arms, tapping foot, etc.--when something is not going well.

All these behaviors can seriously undermine your team members' trust because, quite simply, your words don't match your actions.

What should you do? You already know how to begin: by becoming aware of your behavior and recognizing that you actually have a problem.

Next, work to improve your body language. For instance, do you ever exhibit any of the following examples of closed nonverbal language?

  • Clenched hands
  • Crossed arms
  • Hunched shoulders
  • Body turned sideways/away from others
  • Tapping fingers or feet
  • Pursed lips
  • Lack of eye contact

Whether you actually mean it, closed nonverbal language sends the message that you're feeling one or all of these emotions: defensive, resistant, frustrated, anxious, stubborn, nervous or impatient.

Remember that employees carefully watch the behavior of their leader; they "read" what a leader does for cues about his or her true values and commitment. That's why consistency between verbal and nonverbal communication is crucial.

In order to communicate effectively to build trust, you need to make sure your verbal and nonverbal messages correspond: if you don't, you will send mixed messages to your people. The key to enhancing these "silent" communication skills is to become more conscious about what your nonverbal "language" is saying--and to work hard to send the right signals that engage your team members.