Listen with Your Face
Because human beings tend to process visual cues more than any other signal, facial expressions are key to influencing others. Think about the phrases, “When you smile the whole world smiles with you” and “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” These are great examples of how our facial expressions impact the feelings and emotions of those around us.
Facial expressions are powerful transmitters of vital information. Is there ever any doubt in your mind about the ability to get children to behave by simply giving them The Eye? A “listener’s face” assures others that you are interested in what they are saying. It is the foundation to getting more information about what they are thinking, so in turn you will know how to influence them. Unfortunately in today’s high-tech, virtual world we don’t see one another. Even in face-to-face situations where we can read facial expressions, messages are often misinterpreted. Imagine someone telling a joke, but saying it with a completely straight face.
It’s so easy to zone out as a listener, but when you do you can give a blank, open-mouthed look that signals disinterest. Just as you have to work your abs to have toned stomach muscles, you have to work your face to have toned empathetic skills. Be sure that your face is transmitting interest in what others are saying with these crucial reminders.
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 60-70% of the time that someone is speaking to you. Eye contact is the communication circuit that must be established between the speaker and the listener. By making eye contact, you show interest, empathy and sincerity. Your eyes will also pick up the non-verbal signals that all people send out when they are speaking.
When you have established eye and face contact, react to the speaker by sending out non-verbal signals. Our faces contain most of the receptive equipment in our bodies, so tilt your face toward the person talking with you. Move your facial muscles to give the range of emotions that indicate you are following what the person has to say. By moving your face to the information, you can better concentrate on what the person is saying.
Your face must become an active and contoured catcher of information. When you smile, you convey approachability. Your employees and your patients will feel more comfortable around you and will listen more attentively. Be careful, however, to avoid smiling when the message is serious.
It is extremely difficult to receive information when your mouth is moving information out at the same time. A good listener will stop talking and use receptive language instead. Use occasional nodding to encourage the other person to continue talking. Instead of giving your opinion, ask questions. A true listening skill is to become a receptor of information rather than a broadcaster.
Let your facial expressions show your emotional response to the speaker. 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. Matching their facial expressions shows your employees and patients that you are listening. It also creates the same chemicals in your brain that are being produced in theirs. This actually enables you to feel and understand them more effectively.
Be curious about what your “listener’s face” looks like. Ask for feedback from people who will be honest about what you look like when they’re talking to you. Or you could ask a family member to take a picture of you when you’re lost in a TV show. My favorite is to get up in front of a mirror and imagine being a listener with your eyes closed. Freeze your face then open your eyes. If your reflection does not match your intention, adjust your facial muscles. Close your eyes again and capture the feeling of what your face looks like from the inside so you’ll be able to reproduce that in the future without the aid of a mirror.
When you’re talking with people, really notice them, really listen to them, and really get into what they say. Commit to letting them know that you’re listening. Nod in agreement, smile along, and respond vocally (without interrupting). Actively practice this at least once a day every day for three weeks so it becomes a habit. Your automatic “listener’s face” will increase your power to influence.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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