The body language of active listening

Click on the image to see this week’s video!
Three body language skills for authentic human connection.

Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation, and notice the other person seemed totally checked out? It’s a sad feeling, those missed connections. You never know what’s distracting that person, and you may not be able to change the situation for them.

You can change it for yourself though!

If you worry too much about the other person, you won’t feel your own body much. If you aren’t feeling your own body, it shows. Connect with yourself first, and others will come along for the ride.

This week’s video will give you three tools for reconnecting with your own sensory experience so you can connect with other humans more naturally, without seeming fake or stilted at all.

Remember why you want to be an active listener in the first place? It’s not because you want to control or manipulate people, I hope. For that, go elsewhere. It’s because you want to hear what they have to say!

You want to communicate, to exchange information and experience. If you really listen to them, they are more likely to return the courtesy without reservation, wether they are conscious of that fact or not.

Here are the three tools I go over in the video to get you back in your own body.

1. Actually listen

Keep an open ear and an open mind. Listen to the quality of the sound as well as the words. Don’t decide ahead of time what you are going to hear, and don’t start composing your response while the other person is talking.

There are so many layers of sound to enjoy – don’t miss it!

Are they open and relaxed? Are they a little tentative? Are they emotionally charged? How are they moving as they speak? Cadence can completely change meaning.

I’m so TIRED.

I’m SO tired.

I’M so tired.

2. Allow your head to balance lightly and move, so your ears can receive the sound

Turn your ears towards sound. It’s OK to let your eyes soften and turn slightly away as you listen. The way you make this movement conveys the quality of your listening. A typical communication expert might say to “lean in” towards the other person, but that’s a bit artificial and simplistic. It’s more functional.

The beautiful shape of your ears funnel sound waves into your ear canal. The waves move little sensitive hairs inside the cochlea that register incredibly nuanced details. Those details are then sent through the auditory branch of the 8th cranial nerve to your brain, where your entire life experience is utilized to empathize, understand, and compose a response.

Let those waves of sound wash over you and enjoy it. A natural response, including thoughts and emotions, will arise in it’s own good time.

3. Allow your body to respond to those delicate movements of your head

Your vestibular organ lives right next door to your auditory system. Both are supplied by the 8th cranial nerve. The liquid filled vestibular organ allows you to perceive the tiniest shift of balance in relationship to the ground. It has various chambers with hair-like cells, similar to the cochlea, that are sensitive to the motion of that fluid.

If you’ve been looking for the 8th wonder of the world, look no further than your own head!

As your head moves, your spine and pelvis respond sequentially and naturally to keep you balanced. All of that movement expresses something ineffable, non-verbal, and clear: your integrated response to the quality of sound and the meaning of words.

This authentic body language is what other humans crave. It will resonate despite their own distractions . This is active listening! Your body language is unique to you in that particular moment. You don’t have to plan it ahead of time.

Here’s what the inner ear looks like. Shown is both the cochlea and the vestibular organ:

Image by staff (2014). WikiJournal of Medicine/Blausen Medical

Here is an image showing the hair cells of inner ear which respond to sound waves. They look like giant pipe organs!

Courtesy of Dr David Furness/Wellcome Collection.

I hope these images stimulate your imagination and sensitivity. These practices, while simple, can be profound. I still need to be reminded to really listen because my nervous system is very fast, and I can be impatient! That’s why I recommend practicing with a friend so you can get more comfortable with this new way of being.

The more I slow down, feel more, and think less, the more intimate and meaningful my conversations become. That sad feeling of disconnection becomes a thing of the past.

There’s more to this story. Stay tuned for a second video with three more tools, and check out my next online retreat for deep resilience coming in October 2024.

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