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Want to Be A Good Listener? Here’s Why You Should Ignore Baseline Behaviors

You may have heard that charismatic people are also good listeners. But what does being a “good listener” mean — and are there specific nonverbal cues good listeners watch for and monitor?

In this video, Michael Grinder, the pioneer of nonverbal communication, discusses what nonverbal baseline behavior is — and why noticing when those nonverbals change will help you be a better listener.

Read the modified transcript to “Want to Be A Good Listener? Here’s Why You Should Ignore Baseline Behaviors” below:

Michael Grinder, still talking about charisma, how to do it.

Number six, big important one: make sure that you know how to listen.

It’s almost like a lost art. So we’ve got to figure out when someone is talking, they have their nonverbals in play. And that means that, what does their face look like? What is their voice like? What is their body like, and what is their breathing like?

Now that’s their baseline behavior.

So if I’m talking, and I have this level of gesture, and I keep repeating this level of gesture in a rotating fashion and it comes out so far from my torso, that’s my baseline.

Now, why is that important?

This may sound cruel to say, but if you’re gonna be a good listener, you have to understand their baseline behaviors. All of the facial nonverbals, auditory, kinesthetic, and breathing nonverbals.

The baseline is never important. It’s the background from which they wanna paint a foreground in their picture of communication.

What does that mean? It means that every time they go outside their baseline, now whatever they say, that’s what’s important. So then that means that if they’re gesturing like this and all of a sudden they freeze, that change from their baseline, they’re actually signaling you the listener, this is important.

So then you have to understand how to listen. If their voice is at a certain volume and they drop to a whisper or they drop even louder, anything that is a change, anything that is a change from their baseline, they’re marking off, “Please understand what I’m now saying is more important than what I’ve already said.”

So that means that I have to have over on my side as a listener, I have to have, what does my face look like while I’m listening? What does my voice sound like? Encouraging sounds, mm, ah. My kinesthetic, am I leaning forward? Am I not? And how am I breathing? So that means when we’re both talking, we have to make sure that we’re both doing a baseline. That’s all we’re doing is just baseline. It’s not important. But that means that if they change and they indicate something is important, I have to change also.

I’ve asked two people that come along and help me. They are really stuffed full of the excitement of being on film, so please bear with them. This is gonna be the speaker. It’s a good-looking cat. This is a dog. I can’t find his eyes. It could be a blind dog, or a dog for the blind, okay. So what happens is we’re gonna have a cat, and the cat is gonna be talking. And just for the sake of it, we’re just going to go . The dog just has to indicate that he’s paying attention to what’s going on. But if the cat goes , then the dog has to go, either increase the amount of wiggle or decrease it.

So here’s the secret to being charismatic. A shift in the speaker has to register with the listener. I got that. I notice that shift. And how do I communicate back that I got the shift? I shift my baseline.

So a listener’s baseline could be as much as going like this. So when do you change from this to this or to this, when they shift, you shift. So match your shift if you wanna be a good listener.

And if I may, most people think charisma is when you get to influence someone else.

Listening is how you earn the right to have them listen when you talk. Learn to understand shifts and what a difference it will make in your communication. Please, if you live with someone, you get to practice every day. If you work with someone, it’ll be there when you go to work. Learn to listen, but know when to shift when you’re listening. Shift, shift, shift, shift. Baseline doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. Be a selective listener, and you’ll be seen as a charismatic listener.

Thanks for reading! For more information on how to be more charismatic, sign up for our monthly nonverbal communication tips newsletter.

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