friends talking

Step 1: Identifying your trouble spots

To get started, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have trouble maintaining eye contact when talking with others?
  • Do I smile too much because of nervousness? Too little?
  • Do I slouch?
  • Do I keep my head down?
  • Do I speak with a timid voice?
  • Do I speak too quickly when I am anxious?
  • Do I cross my arms and legs?

Some of the nonverbal behaviours you may want to pay attention to are:

  • Posture (e.g. head up and alert, leaning forward)
  • Movement and gestures (e.g. keeping arms uncrossed)
  • Physical distance (e.g. standing closer when talking to others)
  • Eye contact (e.g. making appropriate eye contact when talking)
  • Facial expression (e.g. smiling warmly)
  • Volume of voice (speaking at a volume easily heard)
  • Tone of voice (e.g. speaking with a confident tone)

Note: Many of the above examples are culturally related. For example, in Western societies, it is generally accepted that frequent eye contact while listening, and looking away slightly more often while speaking, are appropriate.

Step 2: Experiment with and practice non-verbal skills

  • Try to practice only 1 skill at a time, so you can make sure you have mastered it before moving on to the next skill.
  • You may want to ask a trusted friend or relative to give you some feedback on your non-verbal behaviour. This feedback can be very useful, as often, we do not really know how we appear to others.
  • If you are able to, it may be useful to videotape yourself having a conversation, and note what your body language may be communicating. Once you have identified a couple of trouble spots, practice the appropriate body language.
  • You can also practice your new non-verbal skills in front of a mirror.
  • Once you have gained a little confidence and practice using nonverbal communication skills at home, try it out in real interactions. It is a good idea to start small by talking to clerks, tellers, and cashiers at stores for example. Try increasing the amount of eye contact you make when talking with others; smile more and pay attention to the reactions of others. For example, is the bank teller friendlier or more chatty when you give her more eye contact and smile more?