This document contains programming that requires a scriptable browser, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. You may not have full access to this page's full potential at this time.
VATOnline Logo Victim Assistance Training Banner
Home Logoff
Core Skills: Communication: Basic Communication Principles    back3 of 6forward


Effective communication involves both verbal and nonverbal interaction, skillful listening, careful questioning, and well- timed interventions.

Nonverbal Communication

The words we use are only a small percentage of communication. Only about 7% of all communication is verbal (illustrated on first pie chart in gold); of the remaining 93% (illustrated on first pie chart in blue), 38% is vocal (illustrated on the second pie chart in burgundy) and 55% is facial (illustrated on the second pie chart in pink) (Mehrabian & Ferris 1967; Ekman & Friesen 1969).

Nonverbal behavior can communicate respect, concern, and increase both your and your client’s comfort.

Some nonverbal skills include:



Voices From the Field
" Use your own self-awareness and reflection to be sure you are not giving cues (verbal and nonverbal) that shut victims down or communicate that you don’t want to or aren’t able to hear what they need to tell. The isolation of being a victim is hard to break through."
-Mitru, Children's Advocate

Lighbulb icon Activity—Inflection Examples

Audio icon This activity requires audio.

Select/click on the below examples to hear how inflection can alter the way a statement is perceived.

"You're feeling uncomfortable?"
"You're feeling uncomfortable."

Although the words of the two statements are the same, they differ in inflection. The voice tone goes up at the end of a question, but gently down at the end of a statement. They are statements of understanding.

Lighbulb icon Activity—Tone and Inflection

Audio icon Note that this exercise requires audio to participate.

Listen to different ways of delivering the same message.

After you have completed the above activity, think about the following:

  1. What were your reactions to the different ways the sentence was delivered?
  2. How did the meaning of each sentence change?

If you do not have audio or the Flash player for the above presentation, download a paper-based version of the activity.

World Wide Web iconResource

Center for Nonverbal Studies NonVerbal Dictionary.

Why is Nonverbal Communication Important?

Nonverbal communication is important because:

  • Nonverbal communication affects how we understand others, and how they understand us.
  • Sometimes there are differences or inconsistencies between verbal and non-verbal expression, so we need to be aware of the nonverbal communication of ourselves and of others.
  • Nonverbal communication can help VSPs to establish rapport and a good working relationship.

Lighbulb icon Activity—Nonverbal Silent Role Plays (adapted from Tools for Coping with Life Stressors,


  1. Find a partner or partners.
  2. Take turns being the communicator and the recipient.
  3. The communicator will click on the card below and will have to act out the situation listed on the card.

    King cardSeven of Hearts CardQueen cardJack cardTen of clubs card

  4. The “communicator” has 2 minutes to do this, and MAY NOT TALK.
  5. The “recipient” has 2 minutes to figure out what the other is trying to communicate (including one full minute of just “listening”).
  6. If the recipient figures it out, he/she wins; if not, the “communicator” wins.

Improving Your Nonverbal Communication

  • Be aware of your nonverbal behavior.
  • Know what you want to say nonverbally and practice expressing it.
  • Pay attention to your client’s non-verbal behavior.
  • Show that your attention is focused on the client: lean toward the speaker slightly, use eye contact, don’t be too close or too far from the client (usually 2-3 feet is comfortable for most Americans).
  • Encourage the client by nodding your head and other gestures.
  • Try not to show frustration, boredom, annoyance by the gestures you use.
  • Minimize your gestures; for example, don’t swing your legs.
  • Modulate your rate of speech so that you are not speaking too fast or too slowly.
  • Pay attention to your tone of voice so that you don’t sound impatient, annoyed, angry, etc.
  • Speak loudly enough so that you can be clearly understood, but not so loud that you are shouting at the client. Use a calm, soothing voice as appropriate.
  • Smile when appropriate, look pleasant and genuine.

  back3 of 6forward