Sound familiar? Have you ever said these words to your spouse or partner? Have they ever been said to you? Variations include: You are NOT listening to me! You haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you? Of course the usual retort is: Yes, I AM listening to you. I ALWAYS listen to you. Or my favorite: What are you talking about?
Clients–individuals, couples and even teens–have often said to me, “He/she never listens to me.” I usually respond with, “Hmm…has there ever been a time when he/she DID listen to you?” This question isn’t always answered, and I go on to say, “If your partner was listening to you, how would you know it?” It’s a great way to begin addressing this thing called: “We have communication problems.”
Listening is so vital to a solid relationship foundation. Yet we are rarely taught how to be good listeners. We get so caught up in making sure WE get heard, that OUR needs get met, or that we defend ourselves against any criticism, real or perceived, that we don’t really listen. The older we get, the more difficult it is to learn this essential skill. Why? Because we have had so many years of communicating in the same way that it’s hard to break out of the old ways … that, and it’s scary to change how we do things.
So, what is this listening thing all about, anyway? The basic mechanics of it go like this:
#1 Body Language: Appropriate eye contact and facial expressions. Position your body so it says, “You have my attention.” This means NOT sneaking peeks at the TV, the smart phone, the computer, etc. In fact, you may just want to shut it all off. Doing so sends the powerful message to the speaker that they are more important than anything else in that moment.
#2 Pay Attention to the Speaker (aka your loved one): Pick up on the emotion that he or she may be experiencing, based on what they are saying. Pick up on the important details.
#3 Ask Questions or Paraphrase Details and Emotions Back to the Speaker: “Then what did you do? Wow, sounds frustrating. So it sounds like it was a good day, yeah?”
#4 Do NOT Solve the Problem or Offer Advice. If your significant other is venting about something (and it’s not you), you are not–I repeat, NOT–required to “fix it.” I mean it. If you have to bite your tongue until it bleeds, do not offer unsolicited advice. Repeat #3 instead.
#5 Thank the Speaker for Sharing with You. Letting them know you appreciate it when they open up to you tells them know you really are interested.
I will go in to more details about listening in the next post. This is a just a start…
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