Just Listen

I have always been interested in facial expressions, body language, and how to understand people, but never really had a chance to practice it before a few years ago, when I started working in an environment that gave me exposure to a lot of people.  I guess what I came away with was less about understanding people and more about modifying my behavior to bring about certain responses from them.  Okay, so this is sounding kinda muddy, so let me start at the beginning.

A few years ago, my people skills were mediocre at best, if they existed at all.  I didn’t really need any in my everyday life.  To a certain extent, it was to my advantage to ignore a lot of extraneous input from outside sources.  On the rare occasion that I had to attend a social event, I got by with “hi, how are ya” and nodding.  So how do I begin to explain how I changed my behavior to get a better response from people?

The first thing I learned was not to just listen, but make the other person feel like I was listening.  This was a good start because it allowed me to gather the information I needed to figure out how to proceed.  But I soon learned that listening was not as simple as gathering information.  While paying attention to what’s being said, I also had to respond in the right way, in the right amount.  I had to make my facial expressions,  body language, and verbal responses match.  Yikes – all that for listening.  I mainly focus on my own facial and body language while listening unless I am on the phone.  Here is what I have learned about listening.

  • Leaning slightly toward the person or moving to make sure there’s nothing in between us like a desk. If I do have an obstacle between the other person and myself, I try to place my hand on the object to bridge the space.
  • Keep your shoulders squared to that person – in other words, don’t point your body more than 45 degrees to either side.
  • Don’t let your eyes wander – it will cause your mind to wander and the other person will notice, then everything will go south quickly.
  • Even if I am in the wrong Especially if I am in the wrong, I keep the appearance of confidence. People like it when they think you totally understand what they are saying and have the ability to remedy their problem.  This also helps thwart the person that is talking in a manner as to demean you.
  • Resist all urges to tell your story.  Comments should reflect the other person’s sentiment, not your own unless specifically asked.
  • Stop doing everything but listening. Taking a few short notes is okay when the situation dictates.
  • Little facial expressions (appropriate ones), nodding, etc. to let them know you are paying attention are good. Controlling your facial expressions is a  complete topic all on its own. But nodding while you are not looking at them is not good.
  • Don’t cross your arms unless you want the other person to feel like you are shutting them down.  A more acceptable alternative to assert a firm attitude would be to bring your hands together either in front of you or if you have a table or surface between you, one hand on top other the other.
  • Don’t fidget.  This one is really difficult because most fidgeting is like a habit and we don’t realize we are doing it.

All that to make sure someone feels like they are talking to someone that cares.


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