Listening to What Isn’t Said
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” —Peter F. Drucker
Yesterday, we learned about the Listener’s Toolbox. Today, we will learn about listening to the nonverbal aspects of communication.
While there isn’t a Rosetta Stone for what body language signals mean, if you look back at your own interactions with people, you can probably tell when your friend is having a bad day. The following are a few things to look out for when having a conversation, which will increase your ability to have a successful one.
Is there a mismatch between what they are saying and what their face is expressing? Sometimes, you pick up on micro expressions that indicate how the person really feels. One sign is when people smile at you, you can tell if it’s a genuine or fake smile by the “crow’s feet” that appear near their eyelids. As shown by:
In a fake smile, you don’t see the crow’s feet.
Is there a mismatch between what they are saying and what their body is expressing? It’s hard for our conscious to override what our subconscious is feeling about a person. If you’re lucky, you can spot micro expressions from the person’s body language, showing what they are truly feeling about you. You might catch a quick crossing of the arms (not open to what you are proposing) or a micro frown.
Is their body directly facing you? Usually, a sign that the person is not 100% focused on what you’re saying is when their body and feet aren’t pointed directly toward you. That’s a tell that it’s not the best time to converse with this person. It will be as if you are yanking them into the conversation.
We all have friends who are usually happy and others who are usually somber. Those emotions are part of their baseline temperament. Once we understand what that person’s baseline temperament is, we can easily spot when there’s a deviation from the norm. If you spot a deviation, it will provide you with vital information on how to proceed during the conversation.
Is the person acting below or above their emotional baseline? Does the person look anxious or stressed? If so, odds are that the person won’t be able to fully listen to you until their issue is addressed. Don’t be afraid to ask about what’s going on. If they don’t want to talk about it, then it’s probably a good time to disengage from the conversation.
How does the person respond when they see you? Typically, the pitch of a person’s voice rises when they greet someone they like and lowers when they talk to someone they don’t like. Also, you’ll see people engage in playful banter with people they truly enjoy.
The Channel of Communication
When you engage in a conversation, you should be aware of the current state of the channel of communication. Remember that the channel of communication is the implicitly agreed-upon range of acceptable topics for a conversation. Too many people get wrapped up in the verbal content and forget to focus on the structure of the channel, which impacts the overall success of a conversation. Things to think about:
How much time are you speaking? Are you carrying most of the conversation? Have you let the other person into the conversation? If you find yourself monopolizing the channel of communication, you should back off and let the other person speak. As Epictetus said, “You were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason.”
How much time are you focusing the conversation on yourself and not the other person? We love to talk about ourselves, but when we only speak about ourselves, we rob the other person of this joy.
Is the conversation becoming combative or turning into an argument? What can you do to refocus the topic on something more enjoyable? The goal of the conversation is to bring people closer together, not push them away. No one needs enemies, so stop yourself short of creating a new one. It’s fine to disagree during the conversation, but when it becomes adversarial, that’s when you need to stop.
The environment does more to impact the quality of a conversation than anything else. What you talk about at the office is drastically different from what you talk about at a coffee shop or a sporting event. Here are a few things to look out for:
Is your current location conducive to the type of conversation you’re having? Talking about serious issues in public probably isn’t the best idea.
Are you speaking to someone at an event organized for a specific cause? As mentioned in our course, “Building a Network for Success,” events can serve as a People Funnel, which is a grouping of people dedicated to a common cause. The event is a signal that all the attendees care about the event’s cause, so use that as a way to begin a conversation. Topics that run counter to the goals of the event probably should not be discussed.
When you’re in a group setting or hosting an event, is there anyone who seems to not be engaged in the party? Reach out to the person and include them. Make them feel that they are part of the dialogue. They will have a better time and you will gain a new friend.
Is there something that’s distracting the other party from being fully engaged in the conversation? It could be the sun in their eyes, or the weather could be too cold. Do what you can to neutralize those distractions. The more subtle you are in making these adjustments, not calling any attention to them, the more the other person will appreciate it.
1. Next time you’re engaged in conversation, focus on the channel of communication, body language, baseline temperament, or the environment.
2. What nonverbal cues are you picking up from the person?
3. What is the cue telling you, and what can you do with this information to improve the conversation?
Tomorrow, you will learn why decreasing your news intake will help you become a better listener.
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