Non-verbal messages


7 Feb 2015 |  for trainees | by Bill, writer at UK & Ireland Counsellor Directory


Studies have suggested that what we communicate when talking depends:

  • 7% on the words used
  • 38% on the tone of voice
  • 55% on body language

Whether or not the numbers are exact, it’s clear that our body language and non-verbal behaviour plays a big part in whether the person we are listening to is comfortable with us.

Helpful body language:

  • Being open – not crossing your arms or frowning at them.

  • leaning forward – to show interest and attentiveness. (Although sometimes it may be more appropriate to be in rapport by matching the speaker’s posture, if they are leaning back).

  • making good eye contact – to show interest. (This is also important so that you can attend to visual cues from the speaker such as facial expression and gestures).

  • Facial expression – maintaining an expression that is congruent with openness and interest, but which is also responsive to the mood of the speaker (not smiling if the speaker expresses sadness).

  • Relaxing – not fidgeting when listening or speaking. Disruptive habits like pencil tapping or playing with jewellery may give the impression that you’re distracted and could suggest incongruence.

  • Nodding – nodding occasionally to show understanding and interest.

  • Closeness – leaving enough personal space between you that the speaker doesn’t feel “invaded”, but close enough to feel comfortably connected.

  • Orientation – sitting at an angle to the listener, rather than face-on, which can appear confrontational.

  • Matching – people in rapport naturally copy each other’s posture, movements, facial expression, forms of speech and tone of voice but this can also be a learned skill.


Conditions for re-use | Images used in this blog.