While researching the topic of becoming a better listener, I realized that my listening skills are a bit like my gardening skills. In the past the only thing I could grow was potatoes, simply shoving them in the ground, covering them in dirt, then watering occasionally, waiting for little potatoes to show up. I thought I knew what I was doing, so I didn’t put much effort into it. What a bummer it is to compare my low-intensity garden to my low-intensity listening skills I apparently sometimes show when talking with my partner ☹.
Don’t be like me! There are plenty of tips that you can incorporate into your relationship to nurture it toward becoming healthy, radiant, ever growing and ever glowing, inside the bedroom and out! Don’t be a potato! When it comes to listening, you need to exert some effort and get active! Let’s look at some skills that everyone can implement to become a better listener to the one they love.
The normal back and forth of conversation has many layers, and with your loved ones, you always want to get past the superficial ‘uh-huh’s’ and ‘yeahs’ that make it seem like you are listening, while your brain is off freaking out about other things. First things first, you need to pay attention!
Yes, I wrote it twice because it’s that important! It is very simple to stay focused for a short amount of time, but to really listen, that can be much tougher! Any time you two are engaged in conversation, give your partner your undivided attention – put that phone down! People appreciate when they get the attention they need while talking about issues that are important to them. Try your hardest to get zen, really be in the moment, and don’t make that moment about you.
You may ask ‘what about having that back and forth that makes up a conversation? I am ready to reply so there are no awkward silences!’ First, welcome to real conversation! This isn’t a movie where there must be constant action plus some superhero costumes (though role play can be fun!), just to keep everyone involved at all times. This is how talking goes; you get a turn once the other person is done. Don’t plan ahead and focus on only what you are going to say next; truly listen and soak up what the other person is trying to say…then take your turn with what’s truly appropriate in the moment. It’s okay to make a personal connection to what they are talking about to show that you understand and relate, but always looking for something to say just to keep chattering does no justice to simply listening and absorbing what your partner is saying. The flow of a conversation is not as important as being able to truly understand what the person is saying and why.
Take it Slow
How many times have you tried to be nice and respond, only to find out you have cut off someone from finishing their thoughts? If you are anything like me, it happens way too often. Instead of sounding like Gilmore Girls on fast forward, let there be some time between someone speaking and you responding. This tiny adjustment makes others feel heard, and people love to be heard! Now that we have some basics covered, it’s time to go to level 2…not quite black belt listening, but tips that are effective to becoming more in tune with what others are saying.
There have been reports of people seeing some tragic accident from different perspectives, and once interviewed about what happened, most everyone has a wildly different story. Humans love to take in all kinds of experiences, then filter it through our own personal brain Brita, coming up with a story we can grip with both hands and swear it’s the truth. When talking with someone one-on-one, this can lead to problems. Instead of just nodding along while someone tells you how awful they felt when Brenda from work took credit for their project, why not try to listen even deeper and become the sexy listening parrot they need right now?
Paraphrasing is simply re-stating what has been said, in your own words, to make sure you understand exactly what they are saying. Something as simple as ‘Wow, Brenda can be such a backstabbing B!’ just might work wonders to validate your partner’s feelings…or if you’re off track, they can steer you back to where you should be. This can be tricky though; maybe it’s just a rant…maybe you are only hearing one side of the story, but remember, in this relationship, Brenda is NOT the person you need to care about. Listen hard and maybe your partner will get around to what the real issues are at work. Your job is to repeat and paraphrase things to make sure you understand when you think you do, and to make sure the attention train is not getting derailed by Brenda!
Working this hard should come with pay! Just joking, kind of. It’s taxing to really, truly listen, especially when there are distractions. Building up the skill of paying attention takes time, but it matters. You can’t just paraphrase your way to victory; sometimes you need to ask questions. Be sure to speak up if something doesn’t make sense, or just to clarify what is said. There’s nothing wrong with asking a few clarifying questions if you need more details or are confused about something, but don’t turn it into an interrogation. If you are having trouble following, ask your partner to please repeat what they said. Don’t do this too often, or else you may look like a lazy listener, but don’t stay silent either.
Remember, you are not Judge Judy!
Want to stop a conversation in its tracks? Simply let the other person know you don’t approve of what they are saying. If you are spending time judging the person instead of listening to the story, you are a murderer!!! (of conversation that is ). Be open to what someone is saying and let them fulfill their side of the picture or experience. It can be hard, but just listen, without passing judgement or blame, and without telling them what to do. Remember, if someone wants your advice, they will ask.
Ok, you made it this far- there are more layers to this talking onion (don’t call your partner that!)
We are entering the core – the deep understanding of the person that all this word soup is coming out of. Consider it the why they are talking to you in the first place. Being understood is in the hierarchy of needs, somewhere below tasty pizza– ok, joking aside, it falls into 4 of the 5 Maslow categories in my opinion. Everyone needs love and belonging, which they will feel when you listen and respond to them thoughtfully; Everyone could use an ego stroke, by getting what they want to say off their chest and boosting their esteem and respect, for you and for themselves. And reaching for that pinnacle, everyone wants to be the best they can be, and expressing yourself in conversation helps with self-fulfillment. You want a challenge? make the person you are listening to feel like they are 1.) the only person in the room 2.) the only person that matters at that time. This is the black belt level of using your ears and connecting them to your brain (and your heart). No way will this change happen overnight, but over time you will be surprised how much more connected you will feel when you start to simply listen.
Think you need help being heard? Maybe pass along this quick list of ways to improve your listening skills to someone who might be lacking and see if it helps your relationship. Or, maybe try some of these techniques yourself and see if you can make improvements where you’ve been coming up short. Focus on making changes to yourself first and maybe you will notice others listening to you even more, and following suit. We promise your partner will notice the effort and improvement, which will lead to more comfort, openness, and a deeper level of intimacy. Practice leads to perfection, and I guarantee someone in your life needs a great listener! Be that for them!