Communication is far more than the words coming from your mouth or fingertips. Body language is not always a subtle science either. Your body screams your mood, even when your mouth is completely still. Do you know how to read your audience to see if they are listening…or want to listen?
I do not like what you are saying, and I am not listening.”
This statement is translated by quite a few different body language expressions:
Crossed arms, hands or feet
- Turned or hung head (avoiding eye contact)
- Body turned to one side
- Exaggerated leaning back (especially combined with crossing)
- Frowning, pursed lips
- Raised eyebrow
What does it mean?
This is the bodily version of the “NO” symbol. Crossing arms over your chest is symbolic of protecting your heart. Crossing of legs signifies an unwillingness to act. If the hands are crossed in the lap, often it is in conjunction with other “not listening”, non-receptive body language.
Head position is important to listening. Ears work best when the head is facing the speaker…they are designed that way.
Head down signifies both shame and a struggle for control. Your information either has triggered a guilt response or sufficient emotion your audience needs to look down, concentrate and wrap its brain around what you have said.
The turned head is indicative of disagreement. It is the personification of “not seeing eye-to-eye”.
In essence, you audience is already headed for the door…away from what you are saying. Whether the information is painful, annoying or irrelevant, not only is no one listening to what you have to say, they are plotting their escape.
Consider this verbal limbo. Your information is the bar. Audience is leaning back to see if it is possible to slide beneath it unscathed. During the calculations, audience is not listening, especially if also sporting crosses…even hands crossed behind head.
Many people claim fidgeting is an automatic response they cannot control. While some disorders (like ASD) are characterized by stereotypical behaviors, your average audience rarely is. What they do shows how they feel about the subject.
- Leg bounce: A cross with irritation or nervousness about subject.
- Finger tapping: Beating out a solution or escape from subject.
- Object fingering: Connecting with reality. Subject is surreal.
- Clothing or hair fingering: Information reflects badly on audience’s self-esteem.
- Smoothing clothing, table cloth, papers: Desire for conflict resolution.
Whether you are telling them about you or them or a situation, the information is not well-received. This is a sign of distaste, not unlike tasting something rotten. Just as eye-watering is a symptom of eating truly sour foods, this body language is audience being unhappy with the subject, regardless of ability to rectify the situation.
Disbelief, not to put too fine a point on it. Either complete shock at your statement or tacitly saying,
Do you really think I am stupid enough to believe that?”
The raised eyebrow means audience knows better than what you are saying. Often, it precedes crossed arms and leaning back.
Non-receptive body language is often layered. As with the picture beside “Lemon Face”, adding the layers together sends a strong signal your message is not getting through to your audience.
What other “not listening” body language do you employ or see?
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2011
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