Listen With Your Body

photo courtesy freedigitalphotos.com
Studies suggest that 55% of our communication is body language. Only 7% of communication are the actually words. This means that your body is speaking loudly!

Being aware of and interpreting body language is a fun and fascinating science. 

The first time I met my friend Nicki, I suspected we'd get along even though she and I were quite different. In the early stages of our friendship, we enjoyed laughs over dinner, coffee, and the kids. One day, after a particularly touching conversation, I wanted to give her a hug. We were still new to each other so I asked her. "Can I give you a hug?" She looked at me puzzled…stood up…braced herself and said "Sure."

Her word said “yes” but her stiff-as-a-board-let's-get-this-over-with body language said "NO."

She and I laugh about it now but it makes a great point. Her body language was speaking loudly! So if our bodies can speak, then it stands to reason that our bodies can listen!

How to listen with your body:

Lean in
Ever notice the difference between the body language of a romantic couple at a restaurant and the couple who just had a fight? The romantic couple is sitting very close to each other. The arguing couple...not so.

We lean in when we are interested in what is being said. Gossip is never shouted across the room. It is shared intimately. 

By leaning your body toward the speaker, you are showing interest.

Make eye contact
In order to make eye contact you have to be facing a person. I remember Bill Cosby saying in one of his stand-up routines that his wife used to say "Listen with your face." This means look at the person speaking. Put down the cell phone, look up from the computer screen, and make a connection.

Uncross your arms
Crossed arms are a common posture these days. People will unconsciously cross their arms when they are cold, angry, or indifferent. No matter the reason, to a speaker, crossed arms appear hostile. It says I am closed off to what you are saying...even if that is not your intent.

Open your body by uncrossing your arms. An open body says come on in, I am listening.

Uncross your arms, lean forward, and make eye contact are just three simple ways you can listen with your body.

What are other ways you can listen with your body?


  1. These are some great points, Julia. I still remember a book I read in college called Micromessaging by Stephen Young in which the author goes through the concepts of the messages we send to each other through minute bits of body language. It was very eye opening for me, and since then I've tried to be a bit more aware of my body language.

    Two more points I would add: body angle and facial expressions. I've noticed that when people are not completely facing you, you can't help but feel like they don't care to really be a part of the conversation. And when I'm actively listening to someone, I usually try to have a friendly look, a slight smile, or look concerned if the situation calls for it. In this case, people respond better when they sense that you are connecting with them emotionally, that you are sharing their feelings with them, as opposed to just watching and observing.

  2. Ryan! Those are great additions! Yes, body angle and/or setting is important. Remove the physical barriers (center pieces, chunky furniture, etc) between you and the other person. Sit or stand at a 45 degree. That angle is close enough to say I'm interested but far away enough not to be creepy and awkward! Thanks for adding to the discussion. I might have to find that book! Body language is always a fun subject in my trainings.