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Communication: Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal Signs of Active Listening


This is a generic list of non-verbal signs of listening, in other words people who are listening are more likely to display at least some of these signs. However these signs may not be appropriate in all situations and across all cultures.


Small smiles can be used to show that the listener is paying attention to what is being said or as a way of agreeing or being happy about the messages being received. Combined with nods of the head, smiles can be powerful in affirming that messages are being listened to and understood.

Eye Contact

It is normal and usually encouraging for the listener to look at the speaker. Eye contact can however be intimidating, especially for more shy speakers – gauge how much eye contact is appropriate for any given situation. Combine eye contact with smiles and other non-verbal messages to encourage the speaker.


Posture can tell a lot about the sender and receiver in interpersonal interactions. The attentive listener tends to lean slightly forward or sideways while sitting. Other signs of active listening may include a slight slant of the head or resting the head on one hand.


Automatic reflection/mirroring of any facial expressions used by the speaker can be a sign of attentive listening. These reflective expressions can help to show sympathy and empathy in more emotional situations. Attempting to consciously mimic facial expressions (i.e. not automatic reflection of expressions) can be a sign of inattention.


The active listener will not be distracted and therefore will refrain from fidgeting, looking at a clock or watch, doodling, playing with their hair or picking their fingernails.

Nonverbal Communication for Online Students

People will derive multiple meanings from the things you type because they cannot read your nonverbal communication over the Internet. Take care to use proper online grammar. If someone were to type a message in all capital letters---"HELLO"---another person could see that as yelling and trying to gain attention. Some individuals will even take great offence to this. However, the person could only need glasses and, therefore, is typing large. Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and mishaps can occur when someone uses incorrect nonverbal communication in the online classroom.

Try staying away from using "???????????" or "!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" at the end of sentences. This is a common mistake to emphasize a statement and needs to be avoided. Respond to everything that someone says. It is impolite and rude to ignore someone. Simply reading a post and not responding doesn’t let the other person know you got their message. Take care to let people know you are listening. Stray away from terms that could be taken the wrong way. The words “boy” and “girl” are typically used when referring to young children, and people take offence when called these things. Avoid common mistakes such as this. Address everyone in the proper manner. The meaning behind your words is important to consider.

Nonverbal Communication Videos

TEDx. (2013, November 18). Body language, the power is in the palm of your hands: Allan Pease at TEDxMacquarie University [Video file]. Retrieved from

TEDx. (2013, November 13). How micro expressions predict success: Patryk & Kasia Wezowski at TEDxUHasseltSalon [Video file]. Retrieved from

Nonverbal Communication Images