Updated: Feb 18, 2019
See the picture above? That’s not a listening stance. But it might be what you look like when people try to give you feedback.
One the first things you practice when you learn a martial art is how to stand and position your body for action.
As I said in How to Take a Punch at Work (Part 2), most “punches” at work come in the form of criticism and confrontation from colleagues and supervisors. Leading conflict is not just about throwing punches. You also need to know how to take them.
And if you’re going to take a workplace “punch” correctly, you need to practice your stance. In particular, you need to practice your listening stance.
This is might sound (and feel) a little awkward at first – but trust me, it works.
Besides actually paying attention, the second most important part of listening is that you look like you are listening. Most of this is accomplished with body language. It sounds simple, but it actually takes a lot of deliberate practice. Here’s the basics:
1. Relax. At least, you need to look like you’re relaxed. For instance, I have what some have called a “resting business face”. This is a nice way of saying that if I’m not careful, I can look angry and overly intense when I’m just thinking, focused and paying close attention. What do I do to get my face into a listening stance? I open my eyes wider, unfurrow my brow (which has a mind of its own) and unclench my jaw. Basically, I purposely undo anything that reads as aggressive or tense.
2. Put your body into an “open” position. Whether standing or sitting, do not fold your arms on your chest. Let your arms sit naturally in your lap. Do not make fists. Keep your hands visible and open. Casually lacing your fingers is fine. Roll your shoulders back in order to “open up” your chest and midsection. Our chest and abdomen contain our vital organs. We cover them when we feel threatened. Uncovering these areas subconsciously demonstrates trust.
3. If standing, it’s best to lean back on something like a wall or table. This signals that you are not in an “action-ready” mode. You’re cool and relaxed. It’s all good. You are ready to have this super-productive conversation – even if you’re freaking out inside or dying to check your watch because you have that meeting in ten minutes…
4. If sitting, do not lean forward. I know you think this makes you look interested and earnest. But to someone who is nervous and afraid that you will argue with them, it just reads as aggressive. Leaning into space, closer to the person talking is a subtle way to exert will and dominance. There’s a time to do this. That time is not now. Sit back in your chair. Relaxed slouching works as well. Just try not to look bored – especially if you are.
5. Smile. But not like a psychopath. Practice a relaxed and content semi-smile. Think gentle and approachable, not patronizing.
If you do the above, the other person should sense that you are open, attentive, and ready to hear what they have to say.
Once you get really good at moving into your listening stance, you’ll have to work to avoid what frequently happens when my wife finishes talking and says something like, “So what do you think?”
To which my reply is too frequently, “Ummm…yeah. I’m sorry. Can you say that again? I totally wasn’t listening.”
Check out the Leading Conflict store for practical and hard-hitting resources that will help you put these ideas into action.
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