Relationships are destroyed when communication breaks down. Communication involves transmitting and receiving, so when you are being receptive to someone, send the other person signals that what they are saying and showing is being received. It’s even better if you can send them signals that their words are being valued. Remember that you communicate with more than just words: your actions and body language say a lot to the other person.
The behaviors listed below tend to poison relationships. Are you doing any of these?
1. No eye contact.
Eye contact is basic. If you don’t make eye contact with the person speaking, you aren’t giving them 100% of your attention. Be sure to hold their gaze as they speak.
Look in the mirror: are the corners of your mouth turned down? For many people, what they believe is a neutral expression is actually a frown. A person on the receiving end of that frown will interpret it as though you are not happy with her. Interrupting. When you interrupt someone, you tell them, “What I have to say is more important than what you are saying.” If you think you know what people are going to say, don’t say it for them; just let them say it. If you want to offer a counterpoint to the discussion, bookmark it in your brain and offer it when there is a pause.
3. Drumming fingers or toes.
Drumming creates an audible interruption which tells the speaker that you want them to hurry up and that you are getting impatient with them. Keep your hands still and in a receptive position, such as with your palms facing upward and in your lap.
4. Crossed arms or hugging knees.
This says to the other person, “I need to protect my heart from you. I don’t trust you.” Instead, uncoil and relax.
5. Rolling eyes.
When you do this, you tell the other person, “Here we go again with this foolishness”. Instead, soften your gaze and turn on your peripheral vision.
6. A rapid exhale.
This type of exhale sounds exasperated—yet another sign of impatience. Instead, keep your breathing slow and even.
7. Flicking a wrist.
If you are making a “shoo-fly” motion with your hand, you are dismissing the speaker like a pesky insect. Basically, you are telling them, “You annoy me. Go away.” If you need to retrain this habit, hold your hands.
8. Showing them the palm.
“Talk to the hand” puts a physical wall between you and the speaker. If you do this, you are telling them, “Stop speaking. I’ve had enough of you.” Keep your arms at your sides as the other one speaks.
9. Reading or texting.
If you think you are doing this surreptitiously, you’re not. People can tell, and it’s offensive. The signals you are sending the other person are, “I would rather be doing this than listening to you. I merely tolerate what you say.” Instead, stop what you are doing and give the person your full attention.
10. Walking out of the room.
This is the epitome of dismissal. What you are saying is, “I don’t value what you are saying, and I would rather be somewhere else.” Instead, hold still and receive what the other is saying—however uncomfortable. The other thing you have to do can wait a little bit. If you must leave urgently, wait for a pause, and explain to the other why you must leave now.
11. Saying, “Well, you do it” when someone give constructive criticism.
That doesn’t give the impression that you value their feedback. Rather, it sounds like you are justifying your behavior. Instead, thank them for their feedback and tell them that things will change in the future (or that you will weigh their comments carefully).
If you are doing any of these behaviors, you have an opportunity to receive more out of life.
As you practice the art of listening, observe your posture, your facial expressions, your breathing, and your movements.
Remember that everyone wants to feel valued, and one way to let them feel valued is to receive and acknowledge what they say. Give them the gift of being heard.