The Importance of Your “Listening” Face (and How to Ensure an Excellent One)

I recently spent a (wonderful!) few days in Lansing, Michigan, doing a day long Wow Workshop.*

Among the many concepts we covered was the importance of having an appropriate “listening” face: i.e., a face that is welcoming/engaged/expectant as opposed to blank/bored/tired.

The reason “Why?” should be apparent, but in case it’s not: people are far more likely to open up and share their creativity/talent/smarts if you look as if you can’t wait to hear what they are about to say.

So how can you ensure your have a marvelous listening face? With the “pumpkin/raisin” face exercise, of course! (FYI: the attached photo is of me demonstrating the pumpkin/raisin mechanics.)

How do you do it? It’s simple enough. First, you make your face as big as a jack o’ lantern: stretch your mouth into an enormous grin, open your eyes as wide as you possibly can, stick out your tongue as far as you possibly can. Next, you make your face as small as a raisin: purse your mouth as tightly as you can, squeeze your eyes closed, suck your cheeks in, furrow your brow. Then, become a pumpkin again, then a raisin, then a pumpkin, then a raisin…you get the idea.

Why does this help? Well, you have forty-four muscles in your face, and only four of them are used for chewing. Most of the time, however, those are the only muscles getting the biggest workout. We use a few more to yickety yak, but day-to-day the muscles controlling our potential range of facial expressions rarely get used.

Additionally, in the same way the other muscles in our body get tense when we’re nervous, the muscles in our face get tense when we’re nervous, limiting our potential expressiveness even further.

Did some of the days’ attendees at first feel silly doing this exercise? Yes. Do many of my clients initially resent me enormously for making them do this exercise? You bet. But when you look at yourself in a mirror, or on videotape, after doing it you will see the difference immediately. Your face will be more alive, more expressive, more interesting. The words you say will seem to carry more weight. You will find the people around you are participating more eagerly; the ideas are flowing more freely; they are giving their all…

All of which is, to me, worth a few moments of feeling silly.

Frances Cole Jones

* Thank you to the team at the Property Management Association of Mid-Michigan: Karen, Rick, Tara, Diana and Heather for an outstanding experience; and to Lynne, the owner of the beautiful space we used ( for taking the photo!