04/22/2011 06:32 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

What Was That?

Has anyone ever looked at you with a disappointed expression and said, "Are you listening?" My guess is that for you -- like almost all of us -- the answer is yes.

Have you ever then replied to the person in an annoyed voice, "What do you mean I am not listening?" and then repeated what he or she said verbatim -- to prove they were wrong? My guess is that for you -- like almost all of us -- the answer is again yes.

Did your annoyed response dramatically improve your relationship with that other human being?
My guess is that for you -- like almost all of us -- the answer is no.

Even if you were listening, how much of an "I care about you" message were you sending to that other human being by taking a defensive posture? Zero. What was that other person really asking, "Why don't you care?" Is "proving them wrong" really worth it? I don't think so.

So, the next time someone looks at you and says, "You're not listening," apologize. Just reply, "I am sorry. I will try to better in the future."

How do to better? Start looking like you care.

As others speak to us, how do they know that we aren't listening? They don't. They only assume that we aren't listening because we don't look like we are listening. If we remember to look like we care, we will not only be reminding ourselves to listen better, we will also be reminding ourselves to communicate a sense of respect for the person who is speaking to us.

Here are several ideas to help you not only listen better, but to look like you are listening, and to demonstrate caring to the person who is speaking to you:

1. After having a dialog with friends or family members, ask them to give you a 1-10 assessment of how much you looked like you cared about their remarks.
2. Find a partner and practice communication while recording it on video. Turn off the sound and just watch your non-verbal behavior. How much caring and respect are your communicating?
3. Try to eliminate all distractions when others are speaking to you. When you are doing other work, answering emails, or interfacing with your computer while someone is speaking to you -- you may not look like you care.
4. Ask questions that let the other person know you have heard what they have to say and would like to learn more.

While this advice can be very important at work, it may be just as important at home.