A lot can be said without words in a face-to-face conversation. 

We’ve all heard the statistics several times before: body language accounts for more than 50% of our communication.

Every day we respond to thousands of nonverbal cues and behaviors, including postures, facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. Often, our non-verbal communication speaks loudest in our conversations. 

These non-verbal cues play a huge role in how our words and intentions are interpreted. A wealth of emotions can be conveyed with a look, a sigh, a smile or a tilt of the head. Excellent non-verbal skills can help show your support by expressing you genuinely care and are truly hearing what someone has to say.

To show support for someone after they’ve experienced a crisis, it’s crucial to be aware of their nonverbal cues, as well as our own


Understanding Types of Nonverbal Communication

Forms of nonverbal communication are many and varied and can provide extensive insight into a person’s thoughts and/or feelings. 

  • Gestures include moving the head or limbs.
  • Posture is the way that you sit or stand and how open your body is to others.
  • Eye contact and movements are the direction and focus of a person’s eyes.
  • Tone of voice is the range of pitch that may communicate something other than the words being spoken. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.
  • Facial expressions refer to any movement and changes of the facial composition.


The ability to understand and use nonverbal communication is a powerful tool that can help us connect positively and reinforce mutual understanding and respect. 

What a person actually says along with their non-verbal communications can show a great deal more about what that person is really trying to say. During your next face-to-face conversation dealing with trauma or a crisis, keep these five tips in mind:

1. Maintain comfortable eye contact.

Don’t avoid eye contact, but do avoid staring. It’s important to meet someone’s gaze. It shows you are interested and that your focus is on them – quite literally!

2. Keep your body position open.

Avoid crossing your arms over your body – it may appear defensive. When your body position is open, it conveys that you are open to listening.


3. Work on your posture

Parents used to emphasize the need to stand up straight and avoid slouching in a chair. As it turns out, they were giving you your first lesson in non-verbal communication. 


Posture is a non-verbal indicator of confidence level. Sit up straight. Don’t slump; it conveys disinterest and inattention. Leaning back, or rocking back and forth in your chair says you’re bored. Instead, lean forward when listening to someone speaks, which shows active interest in both the person and conversation.


4. Sit down, even if the person is standing

Being on the same level as someone appears less threatening and can make them feel more comfortable while avoiding feelings of tension or nervousness when having personal conversations.


5. Question yourself

Throughout the conversation, monitor your progress. Ask yourself: How was I perceived? Could I do something differently? Were people really interested and paying attention to what I was saying? Did I listen well to others? 


As you answer these questions, your self-awareness of your non-verbal communication will increase.


Sometimes it’s not about what you say, but what you do. When used together, these non-verbal behaviors can improve your communication skills, so you can provide support with your words as well as your actions.