In an attempt to be an engaging conversation partner we sometimes find ourselves thinking, even obsessing over what we should say next. We become so focused on formulating a witty response that we find ourselves not at all attuned to what is being said. I have experienced this many times and I bet that more than a few of you can relate. If your experience has been anything like mine, you probably found that the conversation deteriorated fast.
Active listening has many benefits, aside from the obvious information gathering, we also earn the trust, respect and admiration of a colleague, spouse or a friend.
Let’s explore 7 techniques that we can employ immediately to demonstrate that we are listening, and because they operate as self-reinforcing loops, not only will we be demonstrating that we are listening, we will actually become better listeners. When we do the things that people do when they listen, then we will actually listen better.
Nothing says I am listening to you, empathising with you, feeling what you are feeling more than a simple head tilt. Use this when you need to deliver bad news or when someone on your team is experiencing a crisis. If you have a dog at home, see if he tilts his head when you are speaking. Most people, with a heart at least, find this endearing and it’s not that different in our own relationships.
If the head tilt says I am listening then the triple nod says I hear you, I understand and please go on speaking. Research shows that when we nod three times after someone is done speaking they will generally speak up to for times longer. So if you want someone to confess or be more forth-coming you can’t beat the triple nod. The evil twin of the slow triple nod is the fast and impatient nod that says – for goodness sake just get to the point!
Mouths are for speaking, that is true but they are also for listening. You can demonstrate that you accept what you are hearing, reject what you are hearing or you are trying desperately to restrain yourself from interrupting and expressing your own thoughts.
To show that you accept what is being said keep your mouth relaxed, your lips slightly parted and un-obstructed by your hands.
Pay attention to the following behaviors in yourself and in others; when you find yourself doing any of these things, you can take it as a cue to seek clarification or to calmly express your opinion. When you see it in your conversation partner, then show that you are attuned to her, by asking her opinion or asking what is on her mind.
Holding your hand or finger over your mouth as this says that you might be thinking more about your response than you are listening and that you are holding back on voicing your opinion.
Lip Purse – closing your lips tightly says loud and clear that you are unhappy about what you are hearing.
Puckered lips – This looks like you are preparing your lips for a kiss, but of course it will be evident that you aren’t because of the absence of a slight smile. Puckered lips says that you are considering what is being said, move your puckered lips from side to side and now you are saying that you are considering alternatives to what is being said.
When we make good Eye Contact we demonstrate that we are paying attention and that we are engaged. The opposite message is communicated when we check our email when a colleague is speaking to us – we might as well tell him to go tell someone who cares.
A good rule of thumb here is to engage in eye contact 70% of the time – seven seconds out of every 10. Much more than that could get creepy, much less is avoidant.
Eye contact is very intimate (not necessarily sexual) and so it’s a lot harder to remain upset with someone who is engaging in eye contact. If you find that you are unable to look someone in the eye, or they are unable to look you in the eye, something may be wrong – typically we think that the person is hiding information or being deceitful but it could just be that there is a level of disdain or fear and therefore eye contact is too intimate in the circumstance.
Proxemics is a fancy term that describes the space between us. When we come closer we indicate that we like someone. If we don’t like them, we will put space between us. This action is tied to the limbic brain’s flight response. It will manifest in the office, when you suddenly lean back during a meeting. Pay attention to this reliable cue and ask yourself what just got you bothered.
When you show an open body you indicate that you are open to your partner. Cross your arms and you are literally placing a barrier between you and her. It’s the most common protective mechanism and is used universally. Even when it is in response to cold weather, it’s protective, and therefore no matter how comfortable it feels we can all agree that we will be perceived as being closed off.
Fronting and feet
Finally, the angle of our bodies makes it very clear if we are open to someone or to what they are saying – when we face someone head on it is called “Fronting” and studies have shown that it makes us seem more honest. You might want to consider this principle when you choose your LinkedIn profile picture.
In your next interaction with someone, stand and try this. Start off fronting someone and then while maintaining your position turn your feet. What happens to your torso? Yes, it begins to turn away and you start to show your shoulder. And what does that feel like? Pretty obvious, I know it is disengaging and you are literally giving someone the shoulder (cold shoulder).
Contact me to learn more about what Body Language on Purpose can do for you or your organisation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse on December 28th 2015.
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