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March 10, 2009


Kathryn Dindia, a professor of interpersonal communication at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, says there are ways that listeners can show that they are paying close attention. "There are a few things we can do to show we are paying attention," says Dindia. "Good listeners are listening even while they are speaking. They are paying attention to the non-verbal signals of others."

-- Make eye contact. "Studies have shown that listeners make more eye contact than speakers," says Dindia. "If you don't make eye contact, the person speaking will be unsure whether or not you're hearing them."

-- Smile. "You'd be surprised how many people forget to smile," Dindia comments. "That doesn't mean you should sit there with a smile pasted on your face, but you should react once in a while."

-- Make appropriate gestures. By leaning forward, toward your conversation partner, and nodding, you show that you are listening and understanding. "Even when we can't hear what someone is saying, we often nod anyway, just to show our participation in the conversation," says Dindia.

-- Provide what Dindia calls "minimal responses." These include both non-verbal gestures like nodding and smiling, and voiced responses such as laughing and saying "Oh, really?"

-- Ask targeted follow-up questions that show you've understood and assimilated what you've been told.~Breaking these rules gives the impression that you aren't listening and don't care. Dindia advises against interrupting the speaker - "that shows you're just waiting for a chance to speak, instead of paying attention." And asking questions or making comments that don't follow naturally from what the speaker has just said are also off-putting - Dindia terms them "irrelevant responses." Perhaps most important, not reacting or making eye contact also conveys disinterest. What if non-verbal cues you give don't match your words? "Ninety percent of the time, people will believe their eyes, not their ears."


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