When people talk with you, what are you doing? Specifically, what are you doing with your hands, head and eyes?
Your nonverbal behavior, what academics call your “listening posture,” helps determine whether speakers come away feeling a connection with you. You want them to think you’re a great listener, a caring soul who radiates warmth and concern.
To show you listen well, nod your head periodically to indicate your understanding. Tilt your head slightly toward the speaker when you want to signal agreement or sympathy. If you’re asked a question, look up and to the side for a few seconds as if to say, “I’m going to dignify your inquiry by pausing a moment to reflect and think this through.”
Keep your hands at your sides. Don’t scratch your neck or repeatedly rub your eyes or scalp. Speakers may not notice these subtle signs of agitation, but on a subliminal level they may sense you’re unhappy with them or possibly bored and restless.
Eye contact builds rapport. But there’s a difference between really looking at a speaker and letting your eyes glaze over with thinly veiled disinterest. And if you see something in the background that catches your eye (say, a physically attractive person striding by), resist the urge to look away from the speaker.
When speakers smile, consider cracking a smile too. When they look pained, reflect their woe. Modify your facial expressions so that they’re appropriate in the moment. If your body language does not correspond to the speaker’s emotional state, you create a rift and raise suspicions that you’re not truly listening.