We know that true listening goes well past audio cues to watching and reacting to people’s body language. In one-on-one conversations, it can be challenging enough to “listen” to the body language of the other person, but in a group session such as a meeting, we tend to forget to fully listen and react to the non-verbal cues all around us.
And in our modern business world where more of our group interactions are virtual with people projected on video screen large and small, it is easy to neglect body language. To add to the challenge, we find ourselves in meetings where two or more groups are attending through video. A speaker in one location has that much more of a challenge to “read” the room of people projected on the screen.
Recently I read an article in Fast Company Magazine titled, “Sign Language Experts on the Nonverbal Cues you’re Missing in Meetings”. Some great observations from deaf or hard of hearing people who must adapt and listen beyond verbal cues. I recommend you read the article and find ways to adapt your meetings to listen better to the non-verbal cues at play.
Some of the guidance provided:
- Observe Back Channels – the verbal and body movement that confirms someone hears what you are saying. Such things as a verbal “uh huh” or “hmm” to raised eyebrows and head nodding communicate a message.
- Notice Speak Now Moments – a person pushes forward in their seat or sits a bit taller all in the ready to speak and contribute to the conversation.
- Notice the Shoulders – As Laurie Achin says in the article, “If the shoulders are relaxed, the person is happy. If the shoulders are “scrunched up” to give the body a smaller effect, then Achin concludes the person is nervous or uncomfortable”.
- Work on your peripheral vision – due to hearing limitations, deaf and hard of hearing folks become experts at using their peripheral vision to spot body language cues. Too often though we get lost in “tunnel vision” as we speak and lose our ability to scan and notice movements at the edge of our eyesight.
“Sometimes they’re not looking at you, but can catch everything that I am interpreting or signing to them. They have such strong peripheral vision, they catch the smaller, more subtle nuances, better than hearing people who can rely on the audible cues that we give one another.”
– Miriam Horwitz
Of final importance in this article is assuring everyone is heard in your group meeting. Once again non-verbal cues are usually abundant that someone wants to speak or is withdrawing from the conversation. Especially if you are leading the meeting, focus on how you are facilitating the session and acting as a gatekeeper to assure all are heard.
After reading this article I remembered a favorite quote that comes from my passion for photography but works for us in our corporate work life.
“All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice.”
– Elliot Erwitt