How to listen

You’re sitting in the office with your client or customer as they talk about what they want or perhaps sharing the problems they are having with a product or service. You want them to know that you’re listening. You know it’s important to show concern, but you’re a little tired, or they’re going on and on or maybe they’re saying some negative things and you’re feeling a little defensive.

What can you do to help focus and show that you are listening? What body language cues show that your listening? Just like your sixth grade teacher told you: be polite –be a gentleman or gentlewoman. You should be GENTLER with your listening by following these G-E-N-T-L-E-R tips.

Give Facial Feedback

It is so easy to zone out as a listener, but when you do you can give a blank, open-mouthed look that resembles the face of a kid after five hours of cartoons. You’re not winning friends and influencing people. Drool is not very appealing. You have to work your abs to have toned stomach muscles, and you have to work your face to have toned empathetic skills. Let your facial expressions show your emotional response to the message. If they are concerned, show understanding by furrowing your brow. If they are unhappy, frown and lower your eyes. If they are mad, close and flatten out your lip like a sealed envelop. Briefly matching their facial expressions not only shows your customers that you are listening, it creates the same chemicals in your brain that body language shifts are creating in theirs and you will actually feel what they are feeling and understand them more effectively.

Eye Contact

A listener should give more eye contact than the speaker. Research suggests thatif you want to have good rapport you should maintain eye-contact 60 to 70 percent of the time that someone is speaking to you. Females have been shown to be better at this than men and actually need more eye contact from listeners in order to feel comfortable in the conversation. Even research on small children shows that little boys

told to converse on a topic sat side by side and talked to each other staring off into space and little girls moved their chairs to face each other and watched each other with full attention for their entire conversation. This may be because dominance is communicated by either staring or a lack of eye contact. You need to make good eye contact. Research shows that a normal business gaze focuses on the eyes and the upper forehead and in a social gaze, the listener’s gaze drops down to include the nose and the mouth.

Nod Your Head

You do not have to have a bobble toy head, just occasionally nod your head to show you are listening and empathetic with the speaker’s message. An added bonus of nodding your head is that it releases endorphin-like chemicals into your bloodstream to make you feel good and feel more affable about the speaker. Be aware that women nod their heads whether they agree with the speaker’s message or not. Men may think that you agree with them if you nod too much; so be careful not to give mere feedback “I’m Listening” nods if you disagree with what a man is saying.

Turn Off Technology

We have become so accustomed to answering the phone while looking at our computers, leaving our hands on the keyboards when someone comes into our offices to talk and leaving our cell phones and PDA’s on and attached to our waists at all times that we forget how rude all those things are. Signal your intent to really listen by turning away from your computer, letting phone calls go to voice mail, ignoring or turning off your cell phone or pager and saying out loud, Let me turn this off while we talk.” It’s amazing what a difference it will make in the impression you will give to your customer— because so few listeners take the time to be that polite.

Lean Forward

Proximity, that is, being physically close, signals your desire to be emotionally or physiologically close. I don’t mean get in their face, but merely lean in toward the speaker. Research shows that in a seated conversation, a backward lean communicates that you are dominant. A forward lean shows interest.

Expose Your Heart

You do not need to unbutton your shirt and show your superman “S” to show you’re listening; just make sure that you turn towards the speaker. Orient the heart and ideally the upper portion of your body toward the speaker. People self disclose more to listeners facing toward them. Even a quarter turn away signals a lack of interest to the speaker and makes the speaker shut down. It also says something about your response to the message. Research shows that when people feel under attack and/or defensive or have low self esteem they protect their vulnerable heart area on their chest. Body language is a wonderfully symbolic language. To communicate you are an open, confident speaker and listener, you need to show your heart.

There are gender differences. When men are sitting directly across a table or desk from one another, the desk or table almost acts as a castle wall and the direct heart-to-heart message changes to a challenge, creating a feeling of competition between men and making them share less than they do when they are seated side to side.

Remove Barriers

That means take away things that block the access or view of the speaker and you. The barrier used most often is the arms. Though we have over sixty different motivations for folding our arms, speakers see any arm fold as a barrier and a cue that you are not listening. In fact, of all the different body language postures, the arm fold is the most obvious indication of a lack of interest. You actually retain 30 percent less information from the speaker when you listen with your arms crossed. So unfold your arms. In addition, move the phone, books or stacks of papers on the desk that sit between the front of your body and the speaker’s view. You can even show that you are blocking a speaker’s message by holding your beverage glass in front of your upper chest.

There is no greater gift to give to someone than your interest. Be GENTLER with your listening.

By Patti Wood MA, is the Body Langauge Expert. As a top Speaker, Coach & Author she provides comprehensive group and one-on-one training. You can learn more about Patti Wood at You can contact Patti directly at

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Patti Wood

Patti Wood MA, is the Body Langauge Expert. As a top Speaker, Coach & Author she provides comprehensive group and one-on-one training. You can learn more about Patti Wood at You can contact Patti directly at