In today’s 24/7 culture real focus and connection are rare.
“We have an epidemic of fake listening,” says Nick Morgan, speech coach and author of new book “Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact.” “Our colleagues and fellow workers nod and smile a lot to show they’re listening, but it’s not really happening.”
How can you tell whether a colleague, client, or friend is really hearing you rather than thinking of what they’re going to say next? Morgan lists the following signs that someone is zoned out and just pretending to listen:
Their eye contact is too fixed, and their heads are too still.
They’re trying to show that they’re focused on you, but a real conversation is relaxed rather than tense, says Morgan. It’s full of “anticipatory nods and handoffs of eye contact in order to allow smooth conversational ping-pong.”
They smile too brightly and for too long.
Adults are very good at controlling their faces, he says. They may smile in encouragement and to show that they’re with you when, in reality, they’re mentally checked out.
They tap their fingers.
“Because of the way the brain works, we express our intents and emotions in our bodies first, and it can be up to nine seconds later that the conscious mind catches up,” Morgan says. Impatience can leak out in someone’s hands, be it tapping fingers, doodling, or checking a smartphone.
Is the other person tapping a foot, playing with their hair, or frequently shifting in their seat? Being in constant motion and not being able to sit still is a sign their attention isn’t focused, he says.
Their body is turned away from you.
If someone’s lower body is pointed away from you or they lean back in the conversation, they’re putting distance between you. “Watch how people use the space,” says Morgan. “Moving away is usually negative.”
Their feet are pointed towards the door.
For an even better indicator of someone’s true feelings, he says, watch their feet. “If we’re not listening, it’s as if the body is trying to escape,” he says. “The feet turn to the door.”
They don’t mirror your body language.
Two people who are in sync in conversation also synchronise their body movements, Morgan says. They move the same way, at almost the same time. If someone is not mirroring your own body positioning or gestures, they likely aren’t connecting with you.