Yet another meeting is about to begin and, of course, right after lunch. You’re equipped with sleep debt and your focus is nowhere to be found. It would be important to stay sharp, but your good old head isn’t willing to cooperate.
Now, imagine four hostage negotiators sitting around a table, a telephone in the middle. Many hours have passed and they go on waiting for the phone to ring. The situation has been tormenting and they could really use a good night’s sleep. Yet, a laser-sharp focus in the situation at hand is literally a matter of life and death.
In what kind of posture are you imagining the negotiator, who is waiting for the phone call?
A slouch posture gives your mind a permission to be slouch as well
Did you imagine the negotiator sitting with a back shaped like a semicircle, arms crossed and legs stretched out under the table? Or perhaps staring at the phone intensively, arms on the table, leaning forward? Sure, in the hostage negotiations the pressure of the situation helps staying sharp, but it is no coincidence that the pressure also activates your body.
I have just recently started to realize how much mind and body work together. Of course I have noticed that a sudden thought or an experienced emotion might cause a very strong physical reaction. But only now have I started to understand how much our bodies send signals and demands to our brains without us even noticing.
That applies to listening as well. The example of hostage negotiation situation is taken from a former Scotland Yard hostage negotiator and their trainer Richard Mullender. He taught me in a workshop what the listening position is.
Straighten up and lean forward
We take this posture automatically when something in the conversation attracts our interest or shocks us. We straighten ourselves, lean forward and put our arms on our laps or on the table. The back remains straight and leaned forward the whole time we listen. Only when the interesting part is over do we flop back against the back rest.
This position can, and is recommended to, be taken also knowingly. First of all, this way you don’t immediately get caught when something draws your attention. But mostly beacause the listening position helps you follow the conversation when your vitality isn’t at its best.
If you don’t listen carefully, it’s also very hard to answer properly. If your mind has been wandering for the past 5 minutes, the quality of the conversation will decrease inevitably. It’s true that in a long meeting you might get tired no matter what, but everytime you start to reach exhaustion, you can improve your posture again and activate yourself into listening.
TL;DR: What is an active listening position?
- Straighten your back, lean forward, put your hands on your lap or on the table.
- It tells your brain that now it’s time to listen and pay attention.
- I have learned the active listening position from a former hostage negotiator, Richard Mullender.