So, in part one I listed five brief tidbits on how to improve your listening skills. And you ask why that is so important? I mean, you listen just fine, right? True as that may be, it never hurts to polish those skills.
The basic mechanics I mentioned in part one apply to all listening opportunities. If your partner, spouse, friend or teenager needs to vent about something, #1-5 will help you be a good and supportive listener for that person. It’s easier to be a supportive listener when the venting/ranting is not about you or something you did or did not do.
What if it IS about you? Then what? Steps 1-5 still apply … with some slight tweaking.
#1 Body Language – No eye rolling, arm crossing or heavy sighing. These behaviors tell your partner that you are not interested in hearing them and they make you seem defensive and rude. Keep proper eye contact and neutral facial expressions. And if you have to, practice the “neutral face” in the mirror until you can do it easily.
#2 Pay Attention to Your Loved One and Stay Calm – You may not like what you are hearing, but paying attention to what they are saying and how they are feeling is paramount to understanding them. As you are listening, you will feel an emotional reaction. Take a deep breath … or several. Don’t interrupt, just keep paying attention.
#3 Asking Questions – When you start to respond to them, check your sarcasm at the door. When asking a question, ask it with a tone of respect. Example: What could I do differently next time so you aren’t so upset? Versus: Geesh, I said I was sorry, why don’t you just get over it already, I mean, what do you want me to do about it now!?!?!
#4 – And this should probably be #1 – Don’t get defensive. Don’t go on the attack. Take a really deep breath and take as many as you need to stay calm. Remember: no one ever died from their partner criticizing them. It sucks, it may seem unfair, and it may even be unwarranted or untrue … still, listen with respect. The counter-attack (“Well, what about YOU?”) and defensive move (“NO, I didn’t”) won’t solve the issue.
#5 Take a Time-Out – If things get too heated or you feel overwhelmed with what you are hearing, tell your loved one, “I need a break. I feel upset with what you are telling me. I don’t want to dismiss it or attack you back, so I need a break.” Revisit the issue when you have calmed down.
I realize this all looks great on paper (or on-screen) and that it’s 100 times harder to put into practice than it is to read about. And you are probably wondering, “This is good, so now I can listen to someone rag on me – what about when it’s my turn to rag on them? How do I do that without causing a fight?”
Stay tuned for the next post, and I will offer up ways to say what you want to say.
I am a mom, wife, daughter, friend, professional coach and licensed marriage and family therapist who is always seeking ways to be a better person today than I was yesterday.
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