Use proper body language to help become a better listener.

Someone is talking to you. You want them to know that you’re listening. You know it’s important to show concern, but perhaps you are distracted because you have so much to do. What can you do to help focus and show that you are listening? What body language cues show that you’re listening? Just like your sixth grade teacher told you: be polite — be a gentleman or gentlewoman. Improve your listening by following these G-E-N-T-L-E-R tips.

Give facial feedback

Let your nonverbal expressions show your emotional response to the message. Briefly match your facial expressions to theirs. It creates the same chemical reactions in your brain that body language shifts are creating in theirs and to a degree, you will actually feel what they are feeling and understand them more effectively. If they are concerned, show understanding by focusing your eye contact on them, which may make your eye brows furl. If they are unhappy, frown and lower your eyes and nod your head. If they are mad, close and flatten out your lips like a sealed envelope.

Eye contact

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 to 70 percent of the time that someone is speaking to you. Females have been shown to be better at this than men and actually need more eye contact from listeners in order to feel comfortable in the conversation. A normal business gaze focuses on the eyes and the upper forehead. Using a social gaze, the listener’s gaze drops down to include the nose and the mouth.

Nod your head

You do not have to have a bobble toy head, just occasionally nod your head to show you are listening and empathetic with the speaker’s message. An added bonus of nodding is that it releases endorphin-like chemicals into your bloodstream to make you feel good and feel more affable about the speaker. Be aware that women nod their heads whether they agree with the speaker’s message or not. Men may think that you agree with them if you nod too much, so be careful not to give mere feedback, “I’m listening” nods if you disagree with what a man is saying.

Turn off technology

We have become so accustomed to checking our phones that we forget how very rude it is to have our hearts and heads pointed down at a device instead of towards the person we are with. Signal your intent to really listen by putting your phone out of view and perhaps even saying out loud, “Let me put this away while we talk.” It’s amazing what a difference it will make in the impression you give because so few listeners take the time to be that polite.

Lean forward

Being physically close signals your desire to be emotionally or physiologically close. Research shows that in a seated conversation, a backward lean communicates that you are dominant. A forward lean shows interest.

Expose your heart

Make sure that you turn toward the speaker. Orient the heart and ideally the upper portion of your body toward the speaker. People self-disclose more to listeners facing toward them. Even a quarter turn away signals a lack of interest to the speaker. It also says something about your response to the message. Research shows that when people feel under attack and/or defensive or have low self-esteem they protect their vulnerable heart area on their chest. Body language is a wonderfully symbolic language. To communicate you are an open, confident speaker and listener, you need to show your heart.

There are gender differences. When men are sitting directly across a table or desk from one another, the desk or table almost acts as a castle wall and the direct heart-to-heart message changes to a challenge, creating a feeling of competition between men and making them share less than they do when they are seated side to side.

Remove barriers

Take away things that block the access or view of the speaker and you (see photo). The barrier used most often is the arms. Though we have over 60 different motivations for folding our arms, speakers see any arm fold as a barrier or cue that you are not listening. In fact, of all the different body language postures, the arm fold is the most obvious indication of a lack of interest. You actually retain 30 percent less information from the speaker when you listen with your arms crossed. Keep your arms unfolded. In addition, you can seem to block a speaker’s message by holding or having something in front of your heart as you listen. So put down the big coffee cup, and the phone, or remove the books or anything that blocks your heart from the speaker’s view. Listen with your heart open and in view.

There is no greater gift to give to someone than your interest. Be G-E-N-T-L-E-R with your listening.

For more tips, visit how to have the perfect hand shake.

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional and body language expert, is the author of SNAP! Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma. For more body language insights, visit her website,