As you may know, my first book was recently published. It’s called Beyond Small Talk: Connecting with Teenagers through Conversations that Matter.
In this book, it’s all about communicating with teenagers and what you can do to make your communication more effective. A great part of communicating, maybe even the biggest part, is listening. Especially with teens, it’s really not so much about what you say or how you give advice, it’s about being a great listener. One key aspect of good listening is to keep an active listening posture.
This will not only help you to listen better, it will also signal you’re listening to the student you’re talking with. This is crucial for building trust and getting him or her to really open up to you.
Here’s how to show an active listening posture:
- Keep a comfortable eye contact: You don’t have to look the other person straight in the eyes the whole time because let’s face it: That would creep anyone out. Just maintain a level of eye contact that makes you both feel comfortable.
- Get rid of distractions: Put away your book, magazine, tech gadget, or whatever you were holding in your hands. And don’t play with anything either, like a pen or a paperclip or something else, because it can be hugely distracting to the conversation.
- Face the other person: This is not always possible, as sometimes you come into contact with teenagers in the weirdest places, but it’s a good rule to follow whenever possible. I once had a really good and deep conversation with one of my students while driving to an event—obviously we weren’t able to face each other then! Leaning forward just a bit will also show your interest.
- Offer appropriate touch: I’ve found that a spontaneous touch can communicate that you’re really listening, and it can be a huge encouragement for someone to keep sharing. I’m talking about a quick squeeze of someone’s hand, arm, or shoulder. Just make sure it’s appropriate and doesn’t last too long.
- Give verbal encouragements: Have you ever tried talking to someone who didn’t respond to you in any way? I have, and it made me very uncomfortable and not the least bit inclined to keep talking. Your conversation will benefit from some verbal encouragements, like “uh-huh” and “really?” and the like.
- Give nonverbal encouragements: This should come naturally if you’re listening well, because it’s just a matter of responding nonverbally at the right times with a smile, or nodding or shaking your head—nothing you need to practice!
- Sit still: No, you don’t have to become a statue from a wax museum, but it’s usually good to not move too much. If you keep moving or fidgeting, this signals unrest and can make the other person feel that you’re bored.
- Mirror the other person: Mirroring is an effective technique to create a connection, a rapport with the person you’re talking to. It means you very subtly copy their posture as to unconsciously signal you’re like them. You can help them become more open by first copying their posture and then subtly changing it into a more open body language (such as changing folded arms into open arms). This is something you have to be careful with, as it can also be used to manipulate people and you really don’t want to go there.
An active listening posture is something you can practice when you want to or need to, just ask someone else to sit and talk with you and give you feedback on your listening skills.
Can you think of someone you love talking to because they make you feel like they really listen? What is it in their actions and posture that makes you feel that way?