Posted by Nisha Naik
You’ve heard it many times before – communication is the lifeblood of a strong relationship. Not only should you be able to talk with your partner about your feelings, but it’s also important to be a good listener.
Listening is an important skill because you want your partner to feel that he can talk to you, and that you will really hear him. If he doesn’t, he’s likely to find someone else who will – his buddy or workout partner or mom. This won’t build the strength of your relationship, and it won’t help the two of you grow your bond together.
This is true in all relationships, not just with your spouse or significant other. The more your friends, children, siblings, and others feel you really hear them when they talk, the more likely they are to come to you when they need help – whether it’s an issue between the two of you or even just something the person needs help with in her daily life. And the more that happens, the better your bond with that person will be.
So what does it take to be a good listener? And how can you communicate to people that you are hearing them?
Pay Attention – There are lots of ways to show a person you are paying attention when they are talking. Maintaining fairly steady eye contact is an important (and easy) one. Of course, you don’t want to be staring at them to the point of making them uncomfortable, but at the same time, make sure you aren’t looking around the room, looking at other people, or glancing at your phone when a person is talking. Maintain enough eye contact to make it clear to the other person that they have your undivided attention.
Paying attention also means not interrupting. Anytime you interrupt a person when she is talking, you run the risk that she will lose her train of thought or respond to your interruption in a way that derails the point she is trying to make. It also communicates to her that what you have to say is more important than what she has to say, which is not the case if you want her to feel heard. If questions or comments come up in your head while she is talking, don’t interject. Instead, wait until she is done and then chime in.
The third part of paying attention shows in the expression on your face. If a person is telling a sad story, that should be reflected with a sympathetic look from you. A happy story should evoke a smile from you. There’s no need to fake an emotion or otherwise react in a way that isn’t expected, but if you are paying attention and really listening to the story, it would show when the talker is looking at you. Let her see how engaged you are, and she will likely open up more.
Reflect Back What You’re Hearing – When you use words like, “So you think ___” or “What you’re saying is ___,” you are reflecting (or mirroring) back what the speaker is saying. This has a few advantages.
First, it lets the speaker know you are paying attention and trying to understand.
Second, it allows the speaker to clarify his point if he doesn’t think you understand or if he feels the need to put a finer point on what he is saying.
Third (and most importantly) when you reflect back to the person who is talking, it often helps that person dig deeper into his own feelings. Take a look at this example:
Kelly: Ugh, what a long Monday!
Jeff: Bad day?
Kelly: The boss was on my case all day.
Jeff: Was he breathing down your neck a lot?
Kelly: Yes, and it just makes me take longer to finish my work because it makes me nervous.
Jeff: Sounds like the more he crowds you, the more your anxiety goes up.
Kelly: Yes! Exactly! And then it takes longer to get everything done, and we all get frustrated!
See how Jeff simply mirrored back each thing Kelly said, but just with different words? The more he did that, the more he communicated that he “got” what she was saying. And when he got it, it allowed Kelly to keep digging to really express what was going on. In the end, she feels better for venting, and she feels like Jeff really heard her. In the future, she’s likely to open up to him again because she walked away feeling acknowledged and validated.
Keep in mind that mirroring what a person says does not mean you agree with them. It just means that you heard them. Use the reflecting technique even when you don’t agree with someone. The point is that you want the speaker to feel like he was heard, and that you listened. If you feel strongly about expressing why you don’t agree with him, do so only after you have sufficiently (several times) mirrored back what he said, so you can be sure he felt heard, and you can also feel sure you understand his point of view.
Listen Without Formulating a Response – When someone is telling you something, it’s easy for your mind to go to a lot of different places. You might judge the person for what she’s saying, you might already start thinking of solutions to the problem she’s discussing, or you might even think about why what she is saying is wrong. Try your best not to do any of these things, because if you are, you aren’t truly listening.
Instead of forming an opinion or devising a solution, make a conscious effort to instead put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Try to feel what she is feeling. She is talking to you for a reason. She wants you to see her point of view or understand her feelings or convince you of an opinion.
To be a good listener, you have to see where she is coming from. Instead of thinking about what you are going to say next, or instead of waiting for her to stop just so you can say what’s on your mind, really listen without formulating a response. Listen empathetically, get a good understanding of what she’s saying and feeling, and then reflect that back to her.
Remember, good communication makes a strong foundation for a relationship, and listening skills are a big part of that. Even more, when a person knows that his partner will really listen objectively, it makes him more likely to open up – and to be honest when he does. Be attentive and give your partner, kids, and friends your time and your open mind. You will see your relationships reach new levels, and your bonds will be stronger.
Do you consider yourself to be a good listener? Are there things you could do differently to better communicate that you’re really hearing the person who is talking? What do you do to show your favorite people that they are being heard by you? Please share it in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you!