Listening with your face

By Wayne Elise

Version en español de este articulo.

You might say I've been around the block. Erika calls me refurbished. In any case, I've learned a few truths about people in my time.

One of those truths is that we don't seduce people with our words. Rather we seduce them with our attention.

The behaviors we pay attention to tend to increase. And those we ignore tend to decrease. That's why listening is so important.

If you listen well enough you can become addicting in a similar way to how video games are addicting. I'm sure you've played a video game in some capacity. Think about the psychological workings at play. The player pushes their joystick to the right and their character opens a treasure chest on the screen. REWARD. They walk to a door and press a button. The door opens. REWARD. A interesting monster comes out for the player to fight. REWARD. They kill the monster. They get a REWARD. It's an addictive experience. People have literally died of thirst and hunger because they couldn't walk away from a video game.

You can be the video game. Listening with your face is a step in that direction. It's not just listening with your ears, nor is it parroting back what the other person says as in 'active listening'. Those ways are boring. People respond better to fast-paced, instantly, immersive interactions.

As you watch your conversational partner speak, notice that they move their head, lift their eyebrows, look down and away and back to you again, they talk with their hands, bite their lip - lots of movements, all sorts of movements. There are over 600 muscles in the human body and people don't keep them still while they talk.

As listeners we usually don't think about this. We just wait our turn to talk - maybe throw in a 'yeah' now and then. We miss the dance that's offered us.

The way the brain works, people connect cause and effect when two actions follow each other closely in time. If I bang my knee on the table and the portrait of your uncle Jesse falls off the wall, you'll connect the two events, "What the hell Wayne!" even though the two actions may have nothing to do with each other. Conversely, we tend to dismiss the causality of an event if the cause tends to be too far in the past. You will conveniently forget about the earthquake tremor a month ago that possibly loosened the wall fixtures.

This is what you can do. Watch people when they talk. They bob their head - you move your head in some way. They look away from you and then look back - you reward them with a smile or lift of your eyebrows. Follow their hands with your eyes when they express with them then come back to the other person's eyes. Move your eyes to their mouth when they bite their lip. These are rewards for expressions directed toward you.

These rewards don't necessarily have to match and mostly they don't. Mirroring is a silly concept after all. Your rewards just have to follow your partner's movements closely in time to create the feeling of causality.

This type of listening can create a strong feeling of connection. Be careful how you employ it. You may not want to connect that strongly in some situations of course.

Note: I find small movements best. They can be almost imperceptible and still work. The effectiveness comes out of the timing being immediate, not the the size of the reward.