Children's hearings training resource manual: volume 2

Volume 2 is a children's hearings handbook, focusing on the problems that some children face, the environment in which they live, their needs and their rights.

3 Non-verbal Communication

When people communicate face-to-face less than 10% of the impact comes from words that are said. Over 90% of the impact is determined by nonverbal communication. Non-verbal messages are received in various ways, e.g. through sight, or hearing. They are an important and often unconscious factor in communication.

In a children's hearing, panel members will be picking up non-verbal signals about the family and vice versa. Although it is important to be aware of these signals they are not always easy to interpret and it is important not to jump to conclusions. The interpretation needs to be checked out e.g. a young girl might be wriggling around in her seat and taking no notice of what is being said to her - this may mean that she is bored by what is going on or it could mean that she wants to go to the toilet but is afraid to ask!

There may be cultural differences which will effect both the behaviour itself and its interpretation. For example in some cultures avoidance of eye contact with figures of seniority and authority is considered to be respectful.

"Why do they have their hands under the table? We know it's the buzzer- they expect trouble." Ross, 14

"I was too nervous; I just sat beside my Mum playing with her rings." Anna, 12


This includes outward appearance: clothes, hair, make-up, cleanliness, signs of ill health, appearance in relation to age. Body language is important in terms of facial expressions which may reveal mood or emotions, avoidance of eye contact. Some people will sit straight; others slumped down, some with arms crossed. There may be close contact between family members or none at all. People may use gestures; have trembling hands, wriggle, and yawn. However, it is important not to rely on body language alone as appearances may be deceptive.

It is important for panel members to think about how they sit during a hearing, where they look, whether they smile, frown, nod their head, sigh, tap fingers, click or point pens, and flick through reports. All these will give messages to others which might mean the difference between a productive and a non-productive discussion.

"They should have a smile on their face, so when you walk in you feel confident and comfortable telling them what you want" Iona 12


The tone of voice used can indicate a person's feelings more than the words that are being used. The volume too may be a helpful indicator. Some people may talk rapidly when nervous - others may stammer and stutter. Some might use silence to give them time to think about their answers. Panel members should not rush in to fill a silence - they should try to allow time for people to gather their thoughts. To be an effective communicator, panel members need to ensure that their body language and tone of voice match what they are saying. Problems can arise when they say one thing, but look and sound as though they mean something else.

"Just lots of adults jabbering away" Hamish, 10


Communication is a two way process. When we speak face-to-face with someone else their senses are taking in what we look like and how we sound. Their brain interprets all this based on their past experiences and view of the world. Meantime we are doing something similar. People behave differently in different situations.

Panel members should not be too influenced by their first impressions. They should check the facts before making judgements about others. It is important for panel members to be conscious of their own feelings, attitudes and values and how these may colour their decisions and lead them to jump to conclusions.

They need to be aware of the messages they are giving out during the hearing - their own stress, anger, embarrassment may influence how they react.

"They had a bit of an attitude actually- they were nice to me but the way they spoke to my Mum was rude and disrespectful- like they were higher than us." Zoe, 13


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