The Body Language of Listening


Remember to Be Gentler
by Patti Wood, MA, Professional Speaker

You’re sitting in the office with your client or customer as they talk about what they want or perhaps sharing the problems they are having with a product or service. You want them to know that you’re listening. You know it’s important to show concern, but you’re a little tired, or they’re going on and on or maybe they’re saying some negative things and you’re feeling a little defensive. What can you do to help focus and show that you are listening? What body language cues show that you are listening? Just like your sixth-grade teacher told you: be polite –be a gentleman or gentlewoman. 

Or you might be wondering if the person you are with is into you.  How can you tell?  What body language cues show he/she is into you?

Below are some body language cues that will help you in your business and personal relationships:

Give Facial Feedback
It is so easy to zone out as a listener, but when you do you can give a blank, open-mouthed look that resembles the face of a kid after five hours of cartoons. You’re not winning friends and influencing people. Drool is not very appealing. You must work your abs to have toned stomach muscles, and you must work your face to have toned empathetic skills. Let your facial expressions show your emotional response to the message. If they are concerned, show understanding by furrowing your brow. If they are unhappy, frown and lower your eyes. If they are mad, close and flatten out your lip like a sealed envelope. Briefly matching their facial expressions not only shows your customers that you are listening, it creates the same chemicals in your brain that body language shifts are creating in theirs and you will feel what they are feeling and understand them more effectively.

Eye Contact
A listener should give more eye contact than the speaker. Research suggests that if you want to have good rapport you should maintain eye-contact 60 to 70 percent of the time that someone is speaking to you. Females have been shown to be better at this than men and actually, need more eye contact from listeners in order to feel comfortable in the conversation. Even research on small children shows that little boys told to converse on a topic sat side by side and talked to each other staring off into space and little girls moved their chairs to face each other and watched each other with full attention for their entire conversation. This may be because dominance is communicated by either staring or a lack of eye contact. You need to make good eye contact. Research shows that a normal business gaze focuses on the eyes and the upper forehead and in a social gaze, the listener’s gaze drops down to include the nose and the mouth.

Eye contact is a good indicator of how interested someone is in you. For one thing, straight on eye contact makes people attractive. So, it follows that if your date is holding your gaze, they are both showing that they are interested in you as well as presenting their most attractive self.  That eye contact tends to be straight at you to show high attraction and to be highly attractive to you.

It's All in the Feet
If you really want to know how someone feels about you, Wood says to look down — all the way down — because feet don't lie. Feet pointed towards you is a clear sign that someone is into you. It’s a limbic brain response, where the feet point the heart follows.

Their Body Language is Open
There are windows all over your body. At your eyes at your neck, your heart, the palm of the hands your knees and the bottoms of your feet. They keep their windows open to you to show they feel safe and want to connect to you.

Nod Your Head
You do not have to have a bobble toy head, just occasionally nod your head to show you are listening and empathetic with the speaker’s message. A bonus of nodding your head is that it releases endorphin-like chemicals into your bloodstream to make you feel good and feel more affable about the speaker. Be aware that women nod their heads whether they agree with the speaker’s message or not. Men may think that you agree with them if you nod too much; so be careful not to give mere feedback “I’m Listening” nods if you disagree with what a man is saying.

Turn Off Technology
We have become so accustomed to answering the phone while looking at our computers, leaving our hands on the keyboards when someone comes into our offices to talk and leaving our cell phones and PDA’s on and attached to our waists at all times that we forget how rude all those things are. Signal your intent to really listen by turning away from your computer, letting phone calls go to voice mail, ignoring or turning off your cell phone or pager and saying out loud, “Let me turn this off while we talk.” It’s amazing what a difference it will make in the impression you will give to your customer--- because so few listeners take the time to be that polite

Lean Forward
Proximity, that is, being physically close, signals your desire to be emotionally or physiologically close. I don’t mean get in their face but, merely lean in toward the speaker. Research shows that in a seated conversation, a backward lean communicates that you are dominant. A forward lean shows interest.
In addition to keeping their body language open, the experts say to pay attention to the angle of their body. If your date tends to angle themselves toward you, that's a good sign. If someone is into you, they'll lean forward, their feet will point only to you and they may cross their legs towards you. This is especially true if the learning occurs when you are the one doing the talking since it shows real engagement and interest.

They Give You A True Smile
If someone is really attracted to you, the experts say their smile is a dead giveaway — that is, if it's a true smile. But what is a true smile? “A smile with both eyebrows raised extra high for a moment or a longer look than he or she gives anyone else. A true smile is one that also extends beyond the mouth and into the eyes. The easiest sign to look for is the smile with the mouth only, not with the eyes. True engagement is shown all with a smile in the eyes!”

Expose Your Heart
You do not need to unbutton your shirt and show your superman “S” to show you’re listening; just make sure that you turn towards the speaker. Orient the heart and ideally the upper portion of your body toward the speaker. People self-disclose more to listeners facing toward them. Even a quarter turn away signals a lack of interest to the speaker and makes the speaker shut down. It also says something about your response to the message. Research shows that when people feel under attack and/or defensive or have low self-esteem they protect their vulnerable heart area on their chest. Body language is a wonderfully symbolic language. To communicate you are an open, confident speaker and listener, you need to show your heart. 

There are gender differences. When men are sitting directly across a table or desk from one another, the desk or table almost acts as a castle wall and the direct heart-to-heart message changes to a challenge, creating a feeling of competition between men and making them share less than they do when they are seated side to side.

Remove Barriers
That means take away things that block the access or view of the speaker and you. The barrier used most often is the arms. Though we have over sixty different motivations for folding our arms, speakers see any arm fold as a barrier and a cue that you are not listening. In fact, of all the different body language postures, the arm fold is the most obvious indication of a lack of interest. You retain 30 percent less information from the speaker when you listen with your arms crossed. So, unfold your arms. In addition, move the phone, books or stacks of papers on the desk that sit between the front of your body and the speaker’s view. You can even show that you are blocking a speaker’s message by holding your beverage glass in front of your upper chest.

There is no greater gift to give to someone than your interest. Be GENTLER with your listening.

To learn more about using body language to increase your business success or contact Patti Wood at

Patti Wood, MA - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at