6 Ways to Show People You're Really Listening
The former talk show host Larry King once said, “Here’s what I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”
Communication experts consider good listening an even greater accomplishment than speaking well. Most people will agree that listening well takes a lot more energy than talking.
When you’re on a sales call with a VIP client who represents a big sale (and a big commission), you make the best impression by listening intently to what he or she has to say, asking incisive questions and paying attention to the answers as if your career depends on it.
We’re all drawn to people who make us feel special, and being listened to is the one behavior that will do it for us every time. Here are some ways to enhance your listening skills.
1. Listen with your whole self.
Maintain eye contact without staring or glaring. Concentrate on the speaker and lean slightly forward to communicate that you are open to what is being said. Nod, smile, or ask a relevant question if you need clarification. This way, you send a nonverbal message that you are “in the moment” and fully involved in the conversation. Don’t rush or hurry the exchange.Be wholly and fully present, and you’ll be long remembered.
A warm, genuine smile is the most beautiful curve on the human body. Your friendly expression says, “I’m approachable and interested,” and it can immediately put others at ease. When you smile during small talk you let people know you appreciate talking to them and you increase your longevity.
3. Open up and relax.
We have a tendency to “fold up” when we feel uncomfortable or threatened. We cross our arms, legs or ankles, shift in our seat, put our hands in our pockets or even angle our body away from others.
These postures, in effect, “disconnect” or close you off from the person who is speaking. Body language expert Janine Driver writes in her bestselling book, You Say More Than You Think: “The direction our belly button faces reflects our attitude and reveals our emotional state. When we suddenly turn our navel toward a door or exit or away from someone, we subconsciously send the signal that we want out of the conversation and perhaps even out of the interaction.”
Driver calls this navel intelligence.
4. Be aware of nervous gestures.
It’s natural to feel tense in certain situations, but if you want to socialize and meet people you should try to conceal your nervousness as best you can.
Nervousness manifests itself in many ways. Common signs of unease include fussing with your hair, jewelry, or clothing, adjusting your tie, clearing your throat every few minutes, repeatedly clicking a ballpoint pen, wiggling your foot, picking at your cuticles, and biting your fingernails in public. Keep your body parts as still as possible without appearing stiff.
Try to relax and take a few deep breaths.
5. Initiate contact.
If people don’t seem to be approaching you, then take the initiative and be the first person to say hello. This demonstrates confidence and immediately shows your interest in the other person. As the conversation begins, nod, focus on what the other person is saying, and resist the temptation to interrupt or finish someone else’s sentences.
6. Ask questions.
People perk up when we demonstrate a focused and sincere interest in them and their story. If you take an active interest in the lives of those around you, people will remember and appreciate you for making the effort.
Active listening and being fully present for the other person will make you more memorable than you imagine. The willingness to step outside of yourself and your concerns happens when wisdom, generosity of spirit, and compassion are combined with your intent to honor another human being.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).