- Make eye contact often, but remember that unblinking stares are disconcerting. Researchers have found that when people are engaged in an interesting conversation, their eyes remain focused on their partner's face about 80% of the time - but not exclusively on the eyes. Instead, they focus on the eyes for two to three minutes, then move down to the nose or lips, then back up to the eyes. Occasionally, they look down to the table momentarily, then back up to the eyes. Avoid looking up and to the right - it's a universal symbol of boredom and dismissal.
- Lean slightly toward your partner. When you're interested in someone or what they're saying, it's natural to lean toward them to get closer. Again, though, don't be overwhelming with it. After a few moments, straighten back up while maintaining eye contact. Chances are that they'll maintain the distance between you by leaning slightly toward you. When they lean back while pausing in conversation, it's a natural break and a signal for you to say something - ask them a question to draw them out more.
- Watch what your hands are doing. Tapping, shredding paper, rearranging the salt shakers - those are all things that signal boredom. In fact, any repetitive, rapid motion of your fingers is a silent signal to your partner that you're bored. Instead, slow them down. If the meeting is a business one, fold your fingers loosely together while you listen. Rest an elbow on the table to rest your chin on the back of your hand. It brings you closer and indicates thoughtful consideration of what you're hearing. If the conversation is more intimate, your hands and fingers can signal a more seductive interest. Slow them down. Instead of tapping, let your forefinger run lightly over the rim of your glass, or trace it up and down the side of the salt shaker.
- Let your face show your interest. Your facial expression is the best way for you to communicate your interest to another. Let yourself react naturally to what you're hearing. When we're interested, our eyes widen and the brows lift slightly. Your lips part slightly in anticipation of a punch line. Your brows knit in concentration or puzzlement and relax when your curiosity is satisfied. A mobile expression keeps you engaged in the conversation even when you're not speaking.
- Use your head. Expression of interest is more than just facial expression. The position of your head can also send signals. When we're really listening, our heads tend to tilt slightly to the side, chin lifted. Nod in agreement with your partner's words, or to encourage them to continue their story. A slow shake of your head can indicate sympathy or empathy.
- Put it all together. Note that none of these gestures and motions exists in isolation. When you put together a tilted head, an arched brow and pursed lips with a slight lean forward, you are clearly telling your partner without words that you're puzzled and want to hear more. Lean back and fold your arms across your chest and you're signaling that they've just wandered into a subject you're not comfortable with.
By paying attention to the signals that your body is sending, you can encourage people to talk more easily around you. Good listeners attract people to them - and learn a great deal that poor listeners never hear.