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Non Verbal Communications



Words are only a very small part of communication.  While you are saying the words, your body is speaking volumes.  Is your body language helping or hindering the message you want to get across.

Non-verbal behaviour often mismatches verbal assertions.  Check that your body language is congruent with, that it matches the verbal communication.  Watch out for leakage the cues which give away your feelings despite your attempts to control or disguise them.  This needs practice; leakage is confusing rather than “wrong”.

Try disclosing your feelings verbally – paradoxically this can be strengthening.  It does not necessarily make you vulnerable.


Do you hold yourself upright and well-balanced?  Or do you slouch, hunch your shoulders, stand on one foot, sit on one buttock?  It is impossible to be assertive standing off-balance.


Distance, height.  Get to know your own personal space and be sensitive to that of others.  Find out whether positioning yourself closer to or further away from the other person is more effective.  Ideally, stand or sit directly in front of the other person.  If there is a height difference, make sure it is to your advantage.

Each of us has around us a zone of personal space; for some people it is very large and for others it is only small.  It can feel aggressive or offensive if someone comes too close and invades this invisible zone.  Family and close friends may be welcomed in to our personal space, but others may not be.  The invasion of personal space by strangers can feel very threatening, create tension or lead to upset or anger.  If someone invades your personal space you are likely to want to back away and re-establish the space between you; if the person follows, you may end up feeling pursued or cornered.  On the other hand too much space between two people trying to communicate can seem like a gulf and make each person feel as if the other is unapproachable or inaccessible.

Getting the balance right means being very sensitive to the other person’s signals so that you can be close enough to avoid feelings of distance without intruding on their personal space.  You will often find that you can be physically closer to someone standing up than you can sitting down; people generally seem to require a larger buffer zone when seated.

Just as the distance between yourself and another person is important, so is the relationship or orientation in space.  Sitting side by side with another person is usually recognised as a cooperative relationship where you are working as equals.  Sitting opposite someone can be seen as authoritarian, official, formal, and competitive or, especially when a desk is used, as putting up barriers.  

The height at which people sit is significant too.  Try to ensure you sit at the same height as the person you are talking to.  A higher position tends to signal superiority and inferiority in the relationship, even if this is not intended.


Eye contact is the most significant aspect of non-verbal communication to the sighted.  Aim for a steady relaxed contact.  Avoid an intrusive stare or shifting gaze.


Common leakages are the clenched jaw signalling tension or aggression, and the false or fixed smile.  Watch for the automatic smile which says “please don’t be angry”.  “I don’t want to appear nasty” when you have some straight talking to do.


Notice how changes in pitch and tone can signal timidness, whining, sarcasm, etc.  Breathing and relaxation will help you to project your voice assertively.

In communication what is most important may not be what you say but the way that you say it or hear it.  Tone of voice, pitch, speed, rhythm and accent can all play a part in the communication process over and above the words.  To communicate effectively you should avoid the following:

  • Making assumptions about people because of their accent.
  • Making assumptions based on nationality or race.
  • Lapsing in to a detached response to people where your voice has little tone or rhythm and you convey disinterest or boredom.
  • Letting your tension get the better of you and betraying your feelings because your voice becomes higher pitched, you adopt an excited tone or start to gabble.
  • A supercilious tone making a person feel put down, foolish or wrong.
  • Mumbling or speaking to quickly because being unable to hear properly or follow what is said is frustrating and irritating to the listener.
  • Showing your views or feelings in your tone (for example contempt or sarcasm).

One of the most useful skills is to be able to control your voice in difficult or threatening situations.  Your aim is to be calm, clear, firm and polite even if the other person is none of those things.  


Some gestures bring what you are saying to life – others are irritating or distracting.  Fiddling conveys nervousness, tapping or chopping indicates impatience or anger.


As part of communication, touch has an important role in showing love, support, concern, empathy, encouragement and so on, as well as the simpler purposes such as greeting with a handshake or a congratulatory pat on the back.

The acceptability of different kinds of touch varies between individuals, cultures and other groups and we learn what is appropriate and what is not through observation, experience and reading the signals we receive from others.

Some people will not like to be touched at all; they may be distressed by it or feel threatened and could react aggressively.  Some people feel unable to touch because they are unsure of how it will be received or it may seem “unprofessional” in some settings.  Others, however, are uninhibited and spontaneous about touching.  There are also people who may well want the comfort or reassurance of touch but may be unable to signal that is what they need.

Touch is an area requiring careful consideration of the other person’s needs.  It can be patronising, offensive, feel like an invasion of space or even recall unpleasant and traumatic memories.  On the other hand touch can be the most effective way of showing genuine care and concern for another person and establishing a bond with them.


Your body language makes an impression on others and it has an important impact on you.  The increasing number of people who practice Tai Chi, Alexander Technique, Yoga, and other forms of postural exercise and meditation know that an upright, relaxed, balanced posture gives them internal confidence.  Words that come to mind to describe this state of being are: poise, openness, dignity, stillness in activity, and focus with direction.


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