COMMUNICATION SKILLS: How To Be a Good Listener

Last week, I blogged about how facial expressions in an audience can throw you off as a speaker if you don’t bring the right mindset and the right attitude to your presentation.

This week I want to reverse that, and I want to ask you to consider how your “listener’s face” might affect how other people approach you, think about you, and communicate with you.

Earlier in the year, Dean and I were working with a room full of professionals, and during a break one of the women chatted with me about how important it is in her job for her audience to like her and listen to her, but she frequently got anonymous feedback telling her something like,

“I didn’t like her at first, but after she got going, she became more likable.”

I found that comment to be perfect, because earlier in the day, I had spotted her as someone who seemed to not be enjoying the workshop at all. But now that I was talking to her on this break, I was finding out that, not only was she getting a lot out of the session, but she was actually a very enjoyable person to talk to.

 

Her problem was that she really had no idea what her “listener’s face” looked like.

“Listener’s face” is what I’m calling the way that your face falls when you aren’t intending to communicate anything at all, but when you’re in “receiving mode.” When you’re in that mode, you could look just about any way you can imagine: You can appear to be bored, stunned, angry, sad, indifferent, lost, confused… I could go on, but you get the idea.

The woman that I was talking to looked angry when she was in “receiving mode.” It was easy for me to imagine that her audience saw that face before she started talking, and decided she was angry and unpleasant before she had an opportunity to make a first impression with her words.

So I’ve got two pieces of advice for what to do to avoid accidentally making a less than ideal impression with your “listener’s face.”

The first piece is to get curious about what your “listener’s face” looks like.

  • You could ask your closest trusted advisors (you know, the people who feel comfortable telling you something you may not want to hear) what they think you look like when they’re talking to you and you’re listening.
  • Or you could ask a friend to take a picture of you when you’re lost in a TV show you’re watching.
  • Or you could get up in front of a mirror and role-play being a listener, then take a look at what you see.

Any of these will help you assess whether or not you have something you should be concerned about.

And if you do, I suggest you practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness means being in the moment, being engaged with your surroundings, noticing it, appreciating it, enjoying it.

A perfect place to practice this is when you’re alone, driving. You know how often you can zone out while driving — just going on automatic because you’ve driven this route a thousand times? The drone of the engine can knock you into zombie mode pretty quickly. In random moments, just ask yourself to notice what’s around you. Ask yourself what you can appreciate and enjoy about your environment. Give yourself a reason to smile.

Do this also when you’re talking to people. Really notice them, really listen to them, and really get into what they say, and commit to letting them know that you’re listening. Nod in agreement, smile along, respond vocally but without interrupting. Enjoy them, and let them know you’re enjoying them.

It’s so easy to scan a room and ignore everyone you don’t know. The next time you enter a room, actively look around the room and find everyone in it.  So, even if you don’t recognize someone, really see them, and acknowledge them positively.

If you actively practice this at least once a day every day for three weeks, it will become a habit, and your automatic “listener’s face” will be brightened and more enjoyable, creating the kind of impression that you know you want to make when you’re talking.

What do you think? Share your thoughts below! (And for more opportunities to grow your ability to present more powerfully and communicate more effectively, join us in WINNING PRESENCE For Make-or-Break Moments on October 16.)

8 Comments

  1. Catherine Byers Breet on October 2, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Brilliant! As always. Thanks, guys. – Catherine

  2. Khawar Saeed Jamali on October 3, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Nice ! Though I feel their are multiple factors influencing you at that time,some beyond your control but Yes one must practice to come out of everyday pressures to put on a nice “Listener’s Face”

    • Pete Machalek on October 4, 2014 at 11:42 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Khawar! What would you say are some of the factors influencing you at the time of listening that might affect how your face looks?

  3. MELANIE on October 4, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Boy this is good advice.

  4. Sheryl Deaconson on October 10, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Love it!! Your solutions are always so helpful . Thank you!

    • Pete Machalek on October 13, 2014 at 10:29 am

      Aw, shucks, Sheryl. Let us know what happens for you after you practice this!

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