You might be surprised to know how often I have to help clients improve their listening facial expressions.
Really, it’s true.
Even the most enthusiastic or passionate speaker can become downright stoic when it comes time for questions.
It’s not that unusual to watch expressiveness flatline with the words, “At this point I’m happy to take your questions.” But they don’t seem happy at all.
You may notice the speaker’s eyes begin to squint slightly, his mouth turns down at the corners, and the pace slows down a little. These are some of the more typical non-verbal cues that signal concentration.
The problem is, the very same non-verbal cues for concentration can also read less favorably, as boredom or annoyance.
Have you ever asked someone a question and got a blank stare? It’s downright stressful and confusing. Does he understand you? Does she care? Does he resent your question?
Of course, this isn’t the impact you are going for if you want to keep the audience on your side.
Bill McGowen, author of Pitch Perfect: How to say it Right the First Time, Every Time, suggests that you adopt what he calls the BFF, or best friend face.
Yes, the Best Friend Face (BFF)!
Think of the “best friend face” as the expression that comes naturally when we are listening to your best friend share a concern, tell a great story, or ask a question.
As you listen to your best friend, you probably wear a slight smile to signal that that we are curious and open. (I’m not talking about a “frozen” smile that feels forced. That is as damaging as a blank stare. It’s kind of creepy, too.)
When your best friend is sharing a concern, you modify your expression to signal that the information is having an impact on you.
Just like when you speak, you want your listening face to seem engaged, open, and expressive. It feels more natural and your audience will respond better than if you take on a blank expression.
Save your poker face for a poker game.
What if your habit is to listen with a blank stare? Use the mirror.
Practice listening to questions and as you do, watch your reflection. Imagine you are listening to your best friend and watch how your face softens and becomes more expressive.