Body Language of Listeners

Body Language of Listeners

A simple article for the beginners: How your body language shows that you are listening

The strategic use of body language plays a key role in effective communication. Here are seven ways to show that you are listening:

1. Look Like You’re Listening

If you want people to give you their ideas, don’t multi-task while they do! Avoid the temptation to check your text messages, check your watch, or check out how the other participants are reacting. Instead, focus on those who are speaking by turning your head and torso to face them directly and by making eye contact. Leaning forward is another nonverbal way to show you’re engaged and paying attention. It’s important to listen to people — it’s just as important to make sure that they know you are listening.

2. Use Your Head

To encourage a team member to expand on their comments, nod your head using clusters of three nods at regular intervals. I’ve found that people will talk much more than usual when the listener nods in this manner. Head tilting is another signal that you are interested, curious and involved. The head tilt is a universal gesture of giving the other person an ear.

3. Open Your Body

We reveal a lot about our attitudes, emotions and motives by the way we hold our bodies, especially when using closed or open postures.       

In the ultimate closed body posture, arms are folded, legs are crossed and the torso or legs are turned away. Rounding the upper body and hiding hands are closed signals that may also represent feelings of vulnerability or depression.

In open and receptive body postures, legs are uncrossed, and arms are open with palms exposed or resting comfortably on the desk or conference table. If the arms are relaxed at the sides of the body while standing, this is also generally a sign of openness, accessibility, and an overall willingness to listen and interact.

To show that you are receptive to other people’s ideas, uncross your arms and legs. Put your feet flat on the floor and use open palm gestures (which is a body language display inviting others into the conversation).

To encourage a team member to expand on their comments, nod your head using clusters of three nods at regular intervals. I’ve found that people will talk much more than usual when the listener nods in this manner. Head tilting is another signal that you are interested, curious and involved. The head tilt is a universal gesture of giving the other person an ear.

4. Remove Barriers

Physical obstructions are especially detrimental to looking open and receptive. Take away anything that blocks your view or forms a barrier between you and the rest of the team. Even at a coffee break, be aware that you may create a barrier by holding your cup and saucer in a way that seems deliberately to block your body or distance you from others. A successful senior executive told me he could evaluate his team’s comfort by how high they held their coffee cups. It was his observation that the more insecure individuals felt, the higher they held their coffee. People with their hands held at waist level were more comfortable than those with hands chest high.

5. Activate Your Smile Power

A genuine smile not only stimulates your own sense of well-being, it also tells those around you that you are approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy. A genuine smile comes on slowly, crinkles the eyes, lights up the face, and fades away slowly. Most importantly, smiling directly influences how other people respond to you. When you smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually changes that person’s emotional state in a positive way.

6. Lean In

Leaning is another way your body indicates your emotions. Leaning backward usually signals feelings of dislike or negativity. It’s a hardwired response from the limbic brain; we subconsciously try to distance ourselves from anything unpleasant or dangerous. In a seated conversation, leaning backward can also communicate dominance or disinterest.

Positive attitudes toward others tend to be accompanied by leaning forward – especially when sitting down. When two people like each other, you’ll see them both lean in. Research also shows that individuals who lean forward tend to increase the verbal output of the person they’re speaking with

7. Mirror Expressions and Postures

When a business colleague mirrors your body language, it’s his or her way of non-verbally saying that they like or agree with you. When done with intent, mirroring can be an important part of listening (this time listening to what the other person’s body is telling you). Mirroring starts by observing a person’s facial and physical gestures and then subtly taking on the same expressions and postures.

Building positive business relationships takes more than inclusive body language and good listening skills. But don’t underestimate the impact of these behaviors. They can either support or sabotage your efforts.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is  Director at Academic Board of Global Listening Centre, a Leadership Presence coach and an international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She’s a Leadership contributor on Forbes.com, and the author of  “THE SILENT LANGUAGE OF LEADERS: How Body Language Can help – or Hurt – How You Lead.”

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