Being a good listener builds more meaningful relationships and helps people feel
comfortable talking to you. Using tools like active listening and empathy can help, but
there is one tool that makes a huge impact over them all…non-verbal cues.
Non-verbal communication makes up most of the back and forth that people engage in
when they are talking. Non-verbal communication is subtle and influences people
without them knowing it. Skilled non-verbal communication can make a big impact on
the dynamics of a conversation and make listening easier.
Examples of non-verbal communication
Tone of voice
Used together, non-verbal cues can encourage deep and dynamic conversations that
bring people closer together. They can also help you listen better and be heard. Here’s
Facial expressions- Your facial expressions, including eye contact, speak louder than
your words. When someone is speaking, they can read your face. Your expressions will
reflect your reactions to what they are saying. Empathy, concern, and acceptance will
resonate as easily as disbelief, rejection, or confusion.
Keep your facial expressions soft and hold the speaker’s gaze. Avoid furrowing your
brow or looking away as that indicates distrust and/or disinterest. If you are confused,
simply ask a clarifying question to close any gaps. Great listeners can use their facial
expressions to enhance the experience for the speaker and help them feel understood
Tone of voice- Your tone should always match the mood and sentiment of how you
feel. Good listeners use their tone to draw people in and feel safe and heard. Tone of
voice should be absent of sarcasm or judgement and reflect kindness, concern, and
Personal space- Personal space bubbles are a real thing. Everyone has a comfort
zone for how close they want to be to someone else. Great listeners show their interest
in what someone is saying by reducing or nearly eliminating their personal space
bubble. Leaning in toward someone is a non-verbal cue that you are interested in what
is being said. Also, when appropriate, gentle touch on the arm, knee, or shoulder can
also indicate care or concern. While culturally there may be variances on personal
space, most positive communication includes reducing personal space.
Voice inflections- Though using your voice is considered being verbal, inflections are
different than speaking. Using supportive statements like “umm hmm”, “I see”, or
nodding all indicate care and agreement. This is a non-verbal way of letting someone
know you are paying close attention to what they are saying. These small utterances
help people feel heard and understood and promote positive and rewarding
Being a good listener is vital to build relationships and show up for people when they
need you most. Using non-verbal cues enhances your listening skills and makes a big
impact on the people you are speaking with. Developing healthy non-verbal cues and
paying attention to how you use them will help you have powerful conversations.