6 Steps to Improving Communication and Relationships By Being a Good Listener
Did you know being a good listener is just as important as getting your point across, and can actually help you to be understood? Doesn’t it feel good when someone really gets you?
When I hear people talk about good communication often so much emphasis is placed on what we say and how we say it to have the most impact in a conversation. Of course these things are important, and being a good listener is just as important.
Have you ever been in an argument or debate with someone only to be formulating what you’re going to say next while they’re making their point? Have you ever been mentally checked out while your partner or child ramble on about something you may or may not care about? Maybe you don’t even pretend and just interrupt or talk over the other person to make your point or tell your story? Maybe these things have been done to you. Do you remember how it felt?
We all know these behaviors are considered impolite at the very least, but did you know they are actually harmful to your relationships, and undermine both your ability to connect with other people in a meaningful way, and can make you less effective as a communicator?
When we don’t truly listen to what the other person is saying it communicates several things we may not intend to communicate. For example, if we are checked out or thinking about something else, it tells people we don’t care about what they’re saying. They may then believe we don’t really care about them. Another example is if we talk over someone or interrupt them. This tells people what they are saying is less important than what we have to say. Everyone wants to feel valued in a relationship. Not listening to others can cause feelings of disconnection, resentment and lack of trust, which can unintentionally undermine the relationships we care about most.
The last example I will give is listening during an argument. It is easy to check out, become defensive and start planning what to say next when emotions are intense. This is a problem because we may miss important information being shared by the other person, and the opportunity to resolve conflict in a peaceful way that does not damage the relationship.
Here are some pointers for improving your listening skills to better your communication and your relationships.
1. Be an active listener. This means show you are listening by giving physical cues like having at least intermittent eye contact, nodding your head and using verbal cues like, “uh huh”, “I see”, and “that makes sense”. Avoid negative cues like eye rolling, sighing or looking away.
2. Work to focus on what they are saying, even if you find it boring or you are distracted by something else. If you are distracted and can’t focus, feel free to acknowledge that by saying something like, “I’m really interested in what you are saying, and I’m feeling a little distracted at the moment. I need just a minute to clear my head. Then you’ll have my full attention.”
3. Ask questions for clarification and to show interest.
4. Reflect back what the other person is saying to make sure you are understanding them correctly, and to let them know you are paying attention. This means repeat back to them your interpretation of what they said in your own words. Phrases like, “Correct me if I’m wrong, you are saying…”, “What I’m hearing is…”, and “I just want to make sure I’m getting this right, are you saying…” are all good starters.
5. Listen without judgment. This one can be tough because our emotions can easily get triggered and we may feel attacked and become defensive. This means stick to the facts of what is being said without adding labels to the context, to the person or taking it personally.
For example, your partner says, “Oh great, the trash is full again. I guess I’ll take it out! It seems like I’m the only one who ever notices.” You may feel angry hearing this or simply tune them out because you feel blamed, right? Instead of interpreting this to mean your partner is attacking you, stick to the facts. In this situation the facts are: i. Your partner is frustrated. ii.The trash is full. iii.Your partner found the trash full. iv.Your partner believes he or she is the only person who takes out the trash (which may or may not be true).
Chances are they are asking for acknowledgment of the facts because they are frustrated, may believe the situation is unfair, want to know you understand how they feel, and may want help. A good response would be, “You sound really frustrated the trash is full and you found it that way. Would you like some help?” Your partner feels heard, you have avoided feeling or being attacked by them, and an argument has been averted.
If the facts are not clear, this is a good time to ask questions to clarify what is being said, and use reflective listening. This works great with kids too. It shows your listening, gives you important information and helps you to maintain a connection with people you care about.
Try these skills out and see how it goes. Feel free to contribute to the conversation by leaving a comment, or join my mailing list for more information each month. And if you are struggling in your relationship call or e-mail me to see how I can help.