If your body is turned away from someone, if your arms or legs are crossed, or if you are hunched over something like your phone or computer, then you appear closed off and not open to conversation. Instead: turn towards someone, uncross your legs or arms, and face the other person. These body cues signal to someone that you are ready to focus and listen to them. You can convey this message even stronger by leaning forwards toward them (instead of leaning back), as well as maintaining appropriate eye contact. (Please note the length of time you look someone in the eyes will depend on culture and gender, because it can mean different things to different people.)
2. Nod Your Head
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Another non-verbal body cue you can do to let someone know you are paying attention is: nod your head. It’s quite simple! What this conveys to the speaker is not only that you can hear them, but you’re also giving them feedback to keep talking so they can make their point.
When we talk to other people and can see them, then 70% of the conversation happens based on how we are picking up and responding to non-verbal cues. Skype, Face Time, and video teleconferencing are great ways to keep all lines of communication open, especially, when distance is involved, and you are unable to see someone in person for an important conversation. Nodding your head works even if you’re on the phone, because it signals to you that you are listening. By becoming aware of what your body is doing while someone else is talking, you can cut down on someone else’s misinterpretation of your body language that you are being judgmental, not interested, or not listening.
3. Use Words of Encouragement and Affirmation
As you are nodding your head, use one or two words like: “Oh!”, “Cool!”, “Really?”, “I agree!” or “Wow!” to encourage someone to keep talking. You can also make sounds like, “Mmm” or “Mm-hmm,” which are less intrusive, and keeps their flow of thought going too. If you use this right now, or decide to try it out today after reading the article, then I’d love to hear your feedback on how it works for you!
4. Repeat What They Just Said
When you repeat back to someone what they just said you can do it in two different ways. You can repeat verbatim what they just said, or you can paraphrase the gist of what they were just talking about.
When you repeat back what someone just said—make your voice go up like you are asking a question as you repeat back what they said. This conveys interest, but also lets the other person either nod their head, say yes, or say what they were trying to say again so you hear it correctly.
If they have been talking non-stop for a couple of minutes, it is more helpful to paraphrase to keep the conversation going. You can preface the paraphrase by first saying, “let me see if I heard what you said correctly…” and then paraphrase their main points. The beauty of this is that if you accidentally engaged in a listening block, you can refocus yourself on what they are saying, and also ask for clarification.
5. Ask Open-Ended Questions
An open-ended question is different than a closed question. Closed questions are ones that illicit a “yes” or “no” response, and end or change the direction of a conversation. Just remember open-ended questions begin by using “what,” “how,” and “why.” Be careful with the why questions that you are fishing for more information, and not being manipulative, accusatory, opinionated, or judgmental. For example: “What do you mean by…?”, “How did that make you feel…?”, or “Why do you think…made you feel…?” Open-ended questions let the other person clarify and add more information, thereby continuing instead of stopping the conversation in its tracks.
Attentive listeners are able to stay focused, make sense, and ask for clarification on what the other person is saying. Learning how to be a better listener will only help if you then implement these five ways over and over again in all your conversations and is what will make you become a more assertive communicator. The benefit is healthy, open, honest relationships.
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When someone is talking to us and we are thinking about the past or the future, then we are not fully present or able to hear what someone is saying. Part of a being a great listener is reading the other person’s nonverbal body language as well as listening to what they are saying. The other part is being aware of the 12 different listening blocks we sometimes use intentionally or by accident. If you are interested in more than just a quick fix with being a better listener, then becoming more self-aware about your communication patterns and monitoring your internal dialogue will help you re-focus your attention back on the other person and to assertively communicate in all situations with openness, tact, and honesty.