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The Skill That Most People Don’t Have: Active Listening

The Skill That Most People Don’t Have: Active Listening

Active listening is an active process, it is not just simply giving attention to the speakers, but also to show the verbal and non-verbal signs at the same time to let people know you are really digesting what they are saying.

Video Summary

Most people are not really listening

The average person talks at about 225 words per minute, but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute.[1] So our minds are filling in those other 275 words. This shows that we easily succumb to distraction and that efforts are necessary when we want to actively listen to the speakers.

Another reason is hinted by our egocentric self. We love being the spotlight and the centre of conversation, and talking can help us to achieve that! That’s why we tend to listen more than we speak.

How active listening skills make you look much smarter

When you’re actively listening, you’ll make constant feedback. This would make your colleagues and boss think that you’re smart enough to give immediate response and contributing a lot.

How active listening skills make you a charismatic person

“The irony of being a good conversationalist is that talking isn’t the most important piece; listening is what makes you memorable.”

The essence of being a good communicator is your role played in LISTENING, not talking. Imagine that when you come to a friend and talk about a issue that troubles he/she recently, what you are seeking for is a pair of empathetic ears, and an embracing heart. You are not really trying to ask for another person to solve the problem, you just want the other to listen and UNDERSTAND. So, when you actively listen to him/her, you can better understand the person’s situation by detecting his/her emotional changes, the way he/she speaks, and so you can make thoughtful comments to him/her.

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Here’re some useful ways to become an more active listener!

Active listening skills: verbal signs

Paraphrase and make a brief summary

After listening, you can make a short response by briefly summarising the content. When you paraphrase, it can also help your understand what the conversation really means by having you to present the same thing in a different way. Meanwhile, your speaker can also get a chance to clarify when he/she finds something is mis-understood.

Ask questions to show your interest or to clarify

By raising questions, your speaker will think that they are being given attention to and that you are really listening to them. You can show your interest in that topics by asking for more details.

For example, when your boss comes to you in the morning and assign you with a bunch of tasks, and say that every task is highly important and deadline are all hitting very soon. But throughout his conversation, you can notice some particular tasks that he places an emphasis on. So, when your boss have done his talking, you can ask “So it looks like that A and B takes more time and are the focus of the company’s current strategies. So, should I first work on these two projects first?”. And then your boss will be amazed that you really”get” him and know his point, so he will think that YOU are a worker that really understand him and think you two share similar thoughts, so he will like you more and develop a closer relationship!

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Active listening skills: non verbal signs

Make appropriate eye contact

Having eye contact with your speaker is natural and encouraging to the speaker. It shows that you are really listening and trying to understand the content.

But pay attention to your way of looking at others, make sure it is gentle, not too firm and intimidating. Also, be aware of the duration of each eye contact because shy speakers may find themselves feeling embarrassed.

Keep your posture open and welcoming

An open and welcoming gesture can really help the speaker to communicate better. For example, by leaning forward, resting your head on one your hand can show that you are actively listening and welcome the speaker the speak more!

Nod and smile

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Nodding and smiling while you listen are also very positive and affirming signs to the speaker. You show that you are agreeing with what he/she said and everyone LOVES being agreed on. Also, you show that you like the content as well, not hating it!

For example, when your colleague has her presentation on her approach to the problem displayed. When you nod and smile when you find yourself agreeing with her point, that can be really affirming signs to her, and she LOVES it. That assuring actions instantly reduce her fear and feel more confident to continue her point. Your active listening is especially more empowering when most people in the meeting are looking bored and crossing their arms!

One little trick: mimic the body language of the speaker

A little trick of doing the non-verbal communication is that you can simply MIMICK the body language of your speaker! This trick is especially helpful when your speaker talk about an emotional incident. This will make them feel that you really empathize with them.

Want to learn more about active listening skills and be an effective communicator?

3 books we highly recommend:

The Lost Art of Listening, by Michael P. Nichols PhD

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This practical books shares some insights on how to become a better listener, as well as to communicate your idea more effectively. Michael vividly guides you by giving examples of real life situation, easy- to-grasp techniques and practical exercise that you can work on at home.

Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, by Mark Goulston M.D.

This book particularly suits those who work in the business field. This former business coach shares insights on the art of persuading people, and the key role of listening played in that. It emphasises on how effective listening helps you show show your empathy, and so bridges the gap and break the walls between you and your resistant-looking clients.

Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others, by Andrew Sobel

This absorbing book has its focus on the skills of asking questions. It highlights the powerful impact of an inquisitive and provoking question by sharing the real conversations made by 35 CEO, billionaires and friends. It also thoughtfully provides more than 200 questions that readers can apply when facing challenges at work.

Reference

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Lilian Tang

Traveller, food lover (especailly sushi!)

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

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