Supportive Listening – Words are important!


 In the article by Graham D. Bodie and Susanne N. Jones titled The Nature of Supportive Listening II: The Role of Verbal Person Centeredness and Nonverbal Immediacy, published in June, 2012 in the Western Journal of Communication is an examination of (pg 250) “whether the verbal and nonverbal behaviors commonly defined as support also lead to impressions of helpers as supportive listeners.”  The article pointed out that many years of research has indeed proven that varying degrees of nonverbal behaviors and verbal person centeredness are useful tactics in being active listeners and in giving people the impression that they are being listened to.  But what is not known or there is very little research on is how much of each Nonverbal Immediacy (NVI) and Verbal Person Centeredness (VPC) levels contributed to leaving the impression of being a good listener.  The purpose of this study is to seek out the “concrete behaviors that constitute actual listening” (pg 251) to see which behaviors (verbal or nonverbal) were given greater weight in determining what created the best impressions of being a good listener.

Citing and building on the research of Guerrero and Jones which (pg 252) “focused on testing three models of the combined influence of VPC and NVI on perceived support quality,” a further breakdown and measuring were done recognizing the varying degrees of their importance.  According to Jones and Graham, VPC are verbal messages sent by a listener that acknowledge or confirm or legitimize the messages given by a person speaking.  NVI are nonverbal messages i.e. leaning toward the speaker, eye contact etc that also confirm one is listening.  Jones and Graham used university undergraduate students who participated as either part of a research requirement or were given some amount of extra credit in their course work to act as participants in this study.  They were asked to observe and listen to various taped conversations that had already been used in another study to determine the effects of NVI and VPC in creating an impression of being a good listener.  However, for this study, they went step further and asked participants to rate which very specific behaviors created that good impression.

The results were reported as being expected except for one very crucial area.  As stated in the article (pg 261), “This result actually mirrors that of Jones and Guerrero who also found that VPC is generally more crucial to perceptions of support quality than NVI.”  In other words the actual words spoken by the supporter/helper that utilized Verbal Person Centeredness carried a great weight in creating the impression that one is listening over the nonverbal immediacy cues that were expressed.  Since according to our text, Nonverbal Communication on page 2 stating the amount of meaning we receive from nonverbal messages; “put the number closer to 66%, with two-thirds of the meaning in human interactions being derived from nonverbal cues.”

Reading the results of this study reinforcing the idea that words are important, what we say carries weight, and that the words we use and verbal tactics we use to show we are listening actually do create a stronger impression that we are indeed good listeners.  My personal opinion is this is a good sign.  I feel a greater confidence in people in general that we pay more attention to the words that are spoken.  While I appreciate and want to understand how the nonverbal messages are created and what meaning they may convey, I appreciate more the idea that the words are more important, that the cognitive abilities and thought processes and the communication skills in conveying those ideas carry more weight.


Bodie, G. D.  & Jones, S. M. (2012). The Nature of Supportive Listening II: The Role of Verbal    Person Centeredness and Nonverbal Immediacy. Western Journal of Communication Vol. 76, No. 3, 250–269

Burgoon, J.K., Guerrero, L.K., and Floyd, K. (2010). Nonverbal Communication. Boston. Allyn & Bacon


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