The most comprehensive listening book
Level II - Listening to their content
Apple Award Winning Podcast
Podcast Episode 125: the significant consequences when you can decode non-verbal cues

Subscribe to the podcast

The importance of listening at Level II – listening to the content, which is three-dimensional

  • hear,
  • see,
  • and sense

Noticing nonverbal cues and their congruence with their words is a vital skill toward becoming a deeper listener.

While these cues can be informative, it’s crucial to interpret them accurately and consider the context.

During this episode we explore noticing

  • the face,
  • posture
  • and breathing

As we delve into the world of nonverbal cues, we are guided by Susan Constantine, Robin Dreeke, Michael Grinder and Andre Agassi. These four perspectives will create a deeper understanding by noticing, baseline and interpreting a range of non-verbals

Finally, Agassi shares a secret about decoding Boris Becker’s non-verbal signals which led to an eight-match winning streak in the 1990s.

 066: Listening to body language with Susan Constantine

077: The secrets of listening like a spy with Robin Dreeke

085: Hidden Secrets of how to Listen for non-verbals with Michael Grinder


00:00 Andre Agassi:
I told Boris about this after he was retired. We went out in Oktoberfest in Germany and had a pint of beer together and I couldn’t help but say, “Do you know you used to do this and give away your serve?” He about fell off the chair and he says, “I used to go home all the time and just tell my wife, ‘It’s like he reads my mind.'” And he said to me, “Little did I know you were just reading my tongue.”

00:50 Oscar Trimboli:
The significant consequences when you can decode nonverbal signals. When you can listen beyond the words, you can hear more about what they think and what they mean. In this episode of Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words, we’ll explore listening at Level II, Listening to their Content, what you hear, see, and sense.

And for a bit of fun we’ll also explore how one of the world’s best tennis players, Andre Agassi, noticed something in Boris Becker’s body language that he could see, unlike all the other tennis professionals, and was able to decode the signal to his advantage.

01:33 Listening at Level II, Listening to the Content, it’s three-dimensional, what you hear, see, and sense. Today we’re going to focus on the second dimension, listening to their content and what you see. Some people refer to this dimension as body language or nonverbal signals. It’s foundational, and most people oversimplify it and misjudge the content that they see.
I spent some time diving into the database, where we’ve got over 30,000 responses from people who describe what they struggle with when it comes to their listening. You can visit and take the assessment and find out what’s getting in your way.
Here’s some of the comments.

  • How do I even pick up on body language?
  • I struggle to understand what nonverbal cues are.
  • It’s challenging to decipher nonverbal cues in video conferences like Microsoft Teams.
  • I get distracted by their body language and facial features when they’re talking.
  • What do I interpret when somebody provides me with a blank facial expression?

02:50 I’m sure you can relate to some if not all of these, about barriers that are getting in the way when we’re listening on the second dimension at Level II, what we see.
Look, just a little caution before we continue with body language and nonverbal signals, a reminder.
To advance and be effective at level two, you need to have mastered level one, listening to yourself. It’s important that you master level one so you can sustain effective listening at level two.

Otherwise, people describe listening at this level as difficult, draining, distracting.

Please make sure you’ve got your level one fundamentals in place. Now level two is about what they say and how they say it.

03:50 It may be the difference between how they tell stories versus when they use statistics. They may lead with one or another in a typical dialogue with you. And their facial expressions should be congruent with that. Does their face light up more when they’re telling the story or when they’re delivering the statistics?

I want to share with you an extract from Chapter 4 of the book “how to listen” where we unpack the concept of body language.

04:26 Body language. Visual signals from the speaker are commonly referred to as body language. Consider this hierarchy as a way to start noticing body language, and when you feel comfortable that you have increased your awareness at this level, progress to the next. First the face, then posture, and finally breathing.

Paul Ekman is the foundational scholar of body language. He’s authored 14 books and defined 7 universal facial expressions,

  1. anger
  2. contempt
  3. disgust
  4. fear
  5. happiness
  6. sadness
  7. surprise.

05:09 Ekman breaks these down much further into microexpressions. These microexpressions are influenced by facial muscles, including the eyes, the eyebrows, nose, cheeks, and lips.
Throughout his work, Ekman reinforces that the alignment between these facial and body expressions is the essence of reading body language. Don’t become too obsessed or fixated on individual micro level body language signals.

Ironically, this will distract you from your listening. Notice the disconnect between what they say and how their face looked.

05:52 I interviewed Susan Constantine, who studied under Ekman, and has applied her focus in legal disputes and law enforcement. She reminded me of the fallacy of being fixated on one element of body language.

As humans looking at the microexpressions of others, we pick up those cues subconsciously ourselves.

Susan Constantine:
06:19 There’s a lot of research around that too, that people might look at someone across from them and saying, “Is there something wrong? Are you mad at me?” Now, why would they know that? How would they know that? That’s because their facial expression is different from their norm.

It’s more tightened, their eyebrows are more narrowed, their facial expression looks more tense. So naturally human beings can pick up on certain expressions. But what they’re not really good at doing is decoding them accurately because environment and situations can affect those emotions.

You don’t know what happened five minutes before that person walked into the office. You don’t know if that person was on a phone call with one of their kids or their wife or somebody else that created that expression, that emotion that they had. But what we do know is that emotions are written all over our face and they can be read by the human eye if you know how to decode it properly, but you have to be trained.

07:21 I really caution people to make observations about others and decode it on their own without the proper training, because research has told us that about 50% at best are people at reading people.

Their luck is about us flipping a coin.

And that includes federal law enforcement, clinical psychologists, and I train federal court judges. I can tell you right now, most of them can’t detect deception. They get very skewed because they’re watching so many people lying to them, they assume that everybody’s lying to them. They pick up on one clue automatically they’re lying.

07:56 But you can really misread people because there are certain people in certain situations, if a person was never brought into the office before and going to be reprimanded by their boss, and since that’s never happened, that could create anxiety and they could show all kinds of physiological changes in their facial expressions, in their body language, that could be a misread just because of the entire environment it was unfamiliar.

08:27 Oscar Trimboli:
I want to reinforce becoming an expert at reading eye movements and facial expressions is a full-time job, and when it comes to noticing facial expressions, your role as a listener is to become present enough to see any disconnect between their face, their posture, their breathing, and what they say.

When I was working with my client, Rachel, I noticed her body language and provided her with greater insight into what was said, thought, and meant.

She was responsible for the merger integration of two different sized companies in the finance industry. The acquiring company was four times larger than the other company. After three months of working together, we met up on the 32nd floor of the commercial business district head office building she was in.

09:25 As the meeting started, I asked, “What will make this a great meeting for you?”

Rachel launched into a familiar pattern about the struggle around the merger integration, how no one understood how difficult it was and whether she cared about the outcome.

Rachel had created a story that it’s unfair for the person from the acquired company to lead the integration into the acquiring organization. She felt that the acquiring organization should do it.

The dialogue continued for ten minutes. Yet at the seven minute mark, Rachel paused, took a deep breath, her spine and shoulders changed position, and then she continued speaking until she was exhausted by her own story.

I noticed the disconnect between what she was saying and her body at the seven minute mark. I made a mental note to reflect this back to Rachel. “When you took a breath, what happened,” I asked. Rachel said…

10:34 Rachel:
Took a breath. When?

10:37 Oscar Trimboli:
Here I could have replied instantly saying something like, “At the seven minute mark, when you said…” Instead I paused and took a deep breath myself as I silently mirrored her body language. In response, Rachel said…

10:53 I was frustrated with being frustrated. I paused and realized that I’m draining myself of energy by rehashing this issue. It’s time. I can stay frustrated or change, although that’s not what I said. I had to verbalize every remaining excuse. I want to move forward.

Oscar Trimboli:
11:14 Ultimately, when you notice the disconnection between their words and their body language, it’s not about you. It’s about helping the speaker understand what has altered in their thinking.

Be present to notice the disconnect between what they say and how it shows up in their bodies.

11:37 If you want to hear more or read more about the book “how to listen”, and it’s now won four awards across the globe and over a hundred wonderful reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Thank you to everybody who’s provided their reviews about the book. If you go to no matter which country in the world you’re in, we’ll provide the coordinates for how you can get your hands on a copy of the book, or you can listen via your favorite audiobook platform.

If you’d like to hear the full episode of Susan and I, visit that’s episode 66 with Susan and I and you can listen to the complete episode there.

The point Susan’s made is reinforced by Robin Dreeke from episode 77, the Secrets of Listening Like a Spy, and Episode 85 with Michael Grinder the Hidden Secrets of How to Listen for the Nonverbals.

Both explain the concept of baselining, body language and nonverbals, and the importance of noticing variation or congruence.
I thought I would share Robin’s point first and then Michael will follow up immediately after.

13:15 Robin Dreeke:
I used to be a nonverbal expert. I only looked at nonverbals when interacting, from the tip of the toes to the top of the head, but over the years when my focus became on interacting with human beings in the general and to make alignments of relationships, I can’t be watching your entire body and also listening to your words, because the words to me are much more important than everything your body is saying.

I now focus mostly completely really on the face and anything that comes in within proximity of it, if you have hand movements up there or something. And breathing will definitely be part of that.

I won’t notice breathing unless it is outside of a basic norm is a good way to put it.

Same thing with eye blink rates, flutters, lip movements. When you first meet someone, your body naturally establishes a nonverbal baseline for that individual.

And then during the course of the conversation you’re going to start identifying things that are now becoming incongruent with what’s normal for them during that baseline establishment.

14:16 Michael Grinder:
The baseline of what do most people look like, what most people sound like, how they move, and literally how they breathe. And once you have that as a baseline, I would strongly suggest that anytime there is a change in terms of speed or volume increase in the voice, the person is marking off that whatever they’re saying is they would really like you to hear that.

Whatever they say that’s a constant face, voice, body, that’s really the baseline, it’s the background, it’s the noise.

If you want to know the foreground, they’ll mark it off.

In most of the western world, when you increase your volume and your voice, you’re trying to become emphatic. If you decrease your volume in your voice, you’re marking off.

But I want to suggest it’s a deeper level of the human being. A drop of volume and speed oftentimes is more vulnerability.

15:29 Oscar Trimboli:
When you can listen to the nonverbal signals effectively without draining or drawing your attention away from what they’re saying, you’ll create a much bigger impact for them and for you.
Earlier on we mentioned we’re going to take a little detour into the world of tennis.
It’s extremely related to nonverbal signals.

In 1988, Andre Agassi, only 18 years old, was facing Boris Becker, who was 21 at the time, and it was a semifinal of the Indian Wells tennis tournament.
Despite a hard fought three set match, Agassi was defeated seven five in the final set. For those who followed tennis, they’ll tell you that was a really difficult and close match.

The pair met each other again in 1989, and both times Becker again was successful in defeating Agassi.

Yet in 1990 something changed, and for the next eight consecutive matches, Agassi beat Becker every single time.

Just like business, there are many variables in tennis, yet I think you’ll enjoy Andre Agassi’s explanation of why he thinks he defeated Becker over this five year run.

16:57 Andre Agassi:
Tennis is about problem-solving, and you can’t problem solve unless you have the ability or the empathy to perceive all that’s around you. The more you understand what the problem is through other people’s lens, the more you can solve for people, in life and in business.

Boris Becker beat me the first three times we played because this serve was something the game had never seen before.

I watched tape after tape of him and stood across the net from him three different times, and I started to realize he had this weird tick with his tongue. I’m not kidding. He would go into his rocking motion, his same routine, and just as he was about to toss the ball, he would stick his tongue out and it would either be right in the middle of his lip or it would be to the left corner of his lip.

If he’s serving in the deuce court, and he put his tongue in the middle of his lip, he was either serving up the middle or to the body. But if he put it to the side, he was going to serve out wide.

The hardest part wasn’t returning a serve.

17:55 The hardest part was not letting him know that I knew this.

I had to resist the temptation of reading his serve for the majority of the match and choose the moments when I was going to use that information on a given point to execute the shot that would allow me to break the match open.

That was a difficulty with Boris. I didn’t have a problem breaking the serve. I had a problem hiding the fact that I could break his serve at will because I just didn’t want him to keep that tongue in his mouth, I wanted it to keep coming out.

18:28 I told Boris about this after he was retired, because I just showed really good judgment from my own self-preservation and didn’t share this with him before.
We went out in Oktoberfest in Germany and had a pint of beer together, and I couldn’t help but say, “Do you know you used to do this and give away your serve?”
He about fell off the chair and he says, “I used to go home all the time and just tell my wife, ‘It’s like he reads my mind.'” And he said to me, “Little did I know you were just reading my tongue.”

19:04 Oscar Trimboli:
Whether you’re a tennis enthusiast or not, I think the lesson is simple. Everybody is sending out nonverbal signals when they’re performing their work, when they’re in dialogue with you, and everybody who’s watching can see these nonverbal signals.

Yet it takes a very attuned, deep listener to decipher these signals to improve performance. I think every other tennis professional who played Becker would’ve seen his tongue move, yet it was only Agassi who was able to decipher that and use that in a way that was effective for him.

19:53 If you’d like to learn more about these skills at level two, not how to improve your tennis, but how to improve your listening, we’ve got a dedicated course where you can come and practice skilled listening and speaking with others. If you visit you can register for the course.

I’d love to listen to you. Email with the subject line “body language.” And in the body of your email, what will you do different as a result of listening to this episode?
Often I get emails from people with just the subject line and I immediately reply to them, “Well, what will you do differently,” because they’ve left a blank in the body of the email.

20:42 So that’s with the subject line “body language.”

What will you do different as a result of listening to this episode, or more importantly, what should I have added into this episode or what would you have liked me to have covered in this episode so that you could become more effective in the second dimension at level two, listening to their content, what you see?

I’m Oscar Trimboli, and along with the Deep Listening ambassador community, we’re on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the workplace, and you have given us the greatest gift of all, you’ve listened to us.

Thanks for listening.

Subscribe to the podcast