“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant H. McGill
Listening is the best way to overcome relationship problems and to keep your relationship healthy. This is easy to say, but difficult to do. We all know that we should listen well, but many times we miss the mark. Poor listening habits create many of the problems we experience in our relationships. In this article, I describe the qualities of effective listening and provide simple techniques to help you listen better.
The willingness to listen is the hallmark of the most successful people and relationships. Effective leaders in businesses and organizations are defined by their strong listening skills. Parents who listen well maintain close relationships with their children throughout the tumultuous teen years and well into adult years. Romantic relationships with strong listening skills maintain intimacy and commitment across years.
The YouTube video below is a funny example of how important effective listening is to romantic relationships. Even though you may think you know how to fix the problem, what the other person wants most is just for you to listen.
Strategies for Effective Listening
Effective listening requires more that just hearing what the other person is saying. It involves seeking to understand the other person’s intent and desire. Understanding the other person’s goal in the conversation, will create connection, trust, and cooperation.
Here are 8 techniques to help you become a better listener.
Listen for the concern of the speaker.
What are they telling you? Regardless of the content of the conversation, the speaker is communicating something to you about who they are and what matters to them. Listen for what is NOT being said.
Speak up only to clarify your understanding.
Use your comments and questions to help you better understand the other person. Do not use this time to make a request or communicate your perspective. There is a time for that, but it follows deep listening. Ask questions or restate what you are hearing in your own words. This reflective listening will allow the speaker to elaborate or correct your understanding.
Listen for the facts.
Do you know all the parts of the story? Ask for missing information. Build on the facts you know and ask more questions that will help you fill in the blanks. The more shared facts you have, the more shared understanding you experience.
Acknowledge the speaker’s feelings.
This is critical. The conversation feels cold and distant if you listen for facts without affirming the speaker’s feelings. That would feel like a police interrogation. When we state our observations about the speaker’s feelings, we show our concern for the person and his/her feelings. It also helps others to become more aware of their emotions. Many times people’s behavior is motivated are by feelings that they are not even aware of. By stating the emotions you are observing, you help the other person better connect with and understand their own emotions. It also provides an opportunity for them to clarify or correct your observations about their emotional state.
When you see there’s something that the other person is not comfortable sharing, acknowledge the elephant in the room. Make sure that your suggestion is open and allows the other person to amend or correct your understanding. You might want to say something like “I could be off here, but I have a feeling …..”.
Agree as much as possible.
Whenever the person says something you agree with, do so. Agree with body language such as a head nod. Agree verbally such as “ummhum” or “yes”. Every time you agree with the other person, you communicate to them that you are on the same side. Of course, you can not agree on everything. But the more you can agree on, the easier it will be to discuss the points on which you don’t agree.
Reflect back what the other person is saying using your own words. This translation allows you to ensure that you actually understand their perspective. After you’ve paraphrased the other person’s point, look to them to confirm that you’ve done it correctly. If they correct some part of your paraphrase, accept that graciously and try again. Keep paraphrasing until the other person’s response is “yes.”
Don’t fill the silence.
You’ve heard the saying “music is the space between the notes”. Well, emotional connection is the space between the words. There is important emotional work occurring in the silence. You do not want to disrupt this emotion work with unnecessary words. Many times we speak to reduce our anxiety about silence. Take deep breaths, mentally recite an affirmation. Whatever it takes to get you comfortable with silence. The deeper the conversation, the more valuable the silence.
Practice Effective Listening
My grandmother would always tell me “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” What an important lesson! How well you listen is much more important than what you say.
Practice strengthening your listening skills this week. Choose at least one conversation each day to practice listening. Focus on better understanding that other person and the feelings they are experiencing. Set aside your own concerns, thoughts, and opinions. Just listen. You will be amazed at the positive results for both you and your conversation partner!
Comment below with questions about effective listening or success stories. What are the times when you have truly felt listened to? How did it make you feel? What are the times when you focused solely on listening to another person? What was the result? How did it make you feel to be a deep listener?