We'd all like to think we're excellent listeners. But when it comes summarizing what we just heard from our loved one, we often can't give an adequate answer.
Some of us are busy preparing a defense in anticipation of the other saying something offensive or upsetting. This inability to listen to what the person is trying to say redirects the focus to the listener, not the speaker and their message. As a result, the conversation becomes more about the listener’s perspective than the partner sharing what needs to be heard. This can further create problems in a relationship, causing someone to get more upset, the conversation going back and forth, or escalating into an unnecessary argument.
If you think you are having communication problems with those you care about and aren’t sure how to fix them, practicing your active listening skills can significantly improve how you communicate and ultimately help your relationships. In the couples therapy we do, we help each person to learn these quite obtainable skills, which immediately begin helping couples to defuse tension and create greater connection.
Tips for Practicing Active Listening
Listening is a relationship skill that few of us have mastered. However, active listening can be perhaps the best gift you give your partner! It's an activity where you are not just waiting for your turn to speak, but instead you are concentrating and make an effort to understand the other person's point of view, including what they're feeling.
Be aware of your best intentions and why the relationship is important. Show that you are engaged and interested in what the other person is saying.
Also, be mindful of your body language, which plays such a big part in active listening. Eye contact, posture, and facial expressions give others clues about what you might be feeling at that moment. Be sure to read the other person’s body language in the conversation as well, as they can tell you how they are receiving information too. In couples counseling we help members of a relationship to better read and understand their partner's non-verbal cues, as well as to understand the signals they are sending out themselves.
Practice calming yourself by remembering that this is more about the other person than about you. It's their experience they are telling you about, so just try to listen to that experience. Try asking questions to show you care about what they're saying. A good listener knows the value of asking clarifying questions, which helps the other person to talk more openly about their concern. And toward the end of the conversation, give a recap of what they just said. This is an excellent way to show your willingness to understand their perspective.
Try to avoid giving solutions to your partner's challenges, unless asked. When Clarity therapists work with people, especially when it's men's therapy, we are helping our clients (often times men) to let go of trying to solve their spouse's problems. Most people just want to know they are heard and understood, so try leaving your suggestions for another conversation, or at least ask first if they are willing to hear you out. We all know the frustrations when we are met with “Why don’t you …” remarks before we're done saying what needs to be heard.
Contact Clarity Counseling Seattle to learn more
Want help with this? That's part of what we do here, so feel free to reach out to our Seattle therapists!