In a previous post, I wrote that Listening is a “Full Contact Sport.” I said that listening involves more body parts than just our ears. In last week’s post I wrote about listening specifically with our ears. This week we begin a journey into less intuitive body parts that are equally essential to good listening.
I See What You Mean
That’s an interesting phrase when you break it down. Isn’t it? We use the word “see” to mean understand because you can’t literally “see” an idea, thought, or meaning. Typically we think of ideas and meanings as being received and processed through the ears,
Did you know, however, that only 11% of the information we gather comes through our ears? Regarding listening specifically, 10% of that meaning comes from words but more than 30% comes from tone of voice. On the other hand, 80% of the information we gather comes through our eyes. Regarding listening specifically, 60% of the meaning comes through facial expression and body language.
Here’s An Example
My wife and I love the 1992 Thriller/Drama “Shining Through.” It’s a great story about a female American spy during WWII. Watch the trailer below for a great example of someone who “listened” with her eyes.
Linda Voss demonstrated a keen ability to observe. She had learned a lot about the two men in the room and about the situation before she sat down. And, it was all done with her eyes.
In addition to what we can learn about a person or situation by observing the surroundings, we receive most of our clues to a person’s meaning from their facial expressions and body language.
Our oldest son has this T-Shirt. We got it for him on a trip to Disneyland a few years ago. I’ve seen a similar one with Garfield the Cat. We loved the point of this shirt because it fits our son. He’s got a pretty stoic face unless there is something that seems really funny to him.
Most people, though, are more like this fellow. One look at each face and you have a pretty good idea what he’s thinking or how he’s feeling. That becomes important information when you “listen” to what he’s saying. You learn something if the words and the facial expression match. You also learn something important if they don’t.
Facial expression is a form of body language but it’s pretty specific so I treat it separately. What about the rest of the body? People communicate by their posture, the placement of their hands, arms, and legs. They “tell” you a lot by the space they place between you and them when talking. What do you think you are “hearing” from the various poses represented in this picture?
If you’re in a conversation with someone and they are sitting with their arms and legs crossed, their body slightly turned away from you and their head tilted just enough so they are looking at you through the top corner of their eyes, what is their body language saying to you? Do you think they are very receptive to the conversation? Now add that their eyes are slightly squinted and their lips are pursed. What are they saying to you without even using words? See how we can listen with our eyes?
It’s helpful to know this when we’re the one doing the talking, too. Be aware of your face and body when you communicate. The other person is listening with their eyes as well, whether they know it or not.