What is “Whole Body Listening?”

“Thank you for teaching me how to listen; it has really changed my relationship!”

A client came in the other day surprised by how much her relationship had changed since she had learned how to listen. It reminded me that a post about “Whole Body Listening*” was long overdue.

Note: The term Whole Body Listening originates from Susanne Poulette’s work as a Speech and Language Pathologist helping children learn to listen and communicate more effectively. You can read more on her website here!

When listenclients ask for help with communication, first I like to focus on listening, and then on speaking. Listening is the receptive aspect of communication. We all want to be heard, we want our words to be received well by others. However, in the rush of these days, sometimes, we fail to listen and receive the words of others with our full attention.

Repeat as I listen: One trick that I have developed in order to listen better, is to repeat the words of the speaker in my mind, as I listen. This forces me to drop all other thoughts and to give my full attention to the words of the speaker. As a result, I feel more engaged in the conversation, and less distracted. This in turn, makes my communication partner feel more open, engaged, and connected to me.

Whole Body Listening: Another important technique that I model for adults and children is whole body listening. When I work with children, I usually ask: “What part of the body do you use to listen?” Predictably, they respond with “ears” and then I proceed to demonstrate how true listening happens with the whole body.

Listening with the mouth: When I speak, I am not listening. When I interrupt, I am not listening. When I am thinking about what I will say next, I am not listening. By giving my mouth a break, I listen with not just my ears, but my mouth as well.

eyesListening with my eyes: When I cannot hear clearly, when an accent is unfamiliar, when my surroundings are loud, I often look at the speaker’s lips in order to listen better. When I am looking around the room, or at my phone, or checking my email, I am not listening with my eyes. I ask my young clients if they would mind if I started checking my email during our sessions, and in that moment, they realize that the eyes can be a powerful listening organ.

Listening with my hands and feet: With children, I will often demonstrate how tapping our fingers and toes, playing with objects, kicking the table are all ways in which we make it hard for those parts of our body to fully listen. Conversely, I give children lots of praise when they listen with every part of their body.

iVincentJust like children, we can all benefit from whole body listening. This evening, when your partner, your child, your father, your roommate walks in the door, set the phone aside, let the dishes rest a moment longer in the sink and give them some whole body listening. Look at them while they speak, listen with your mouth and in your mind, repeat the words they are saying. Tune in and see how different it feels to listen with your whole body!


*Truesdale, S.P. (1990). Whole Body Listening: Developing active auditory skills.  Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 21: 183-184

Photo Credits: striatic , lanuiop, JD Hancock via photopin cc

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