“Hey! Are you really listening to me?”
Be honest now…Has anyone said this to you before? (Are you bracing yourself for an impending possible conflict hearing those words?)
Think back to that conversation or the last one you just had with someone. As you were listening to them talk, how much of your own brain was formulating your own response, thinking about something else, or actually listening to what the person is telling you?
Before all this personal growth work, I can honestly tell you that majority of my time was probably in this order: 1) figuring out if I agree or disagree, 2) thinking about how I’m going to respond back, especially if I disagreed or have a tangential story to share, and 3) distracted by all these other random thoughts in my head or something that’s happening in the background behind the person. Oops… *head down in shame*
Nope, that doesn’t really count as “listening”. Now I know I was fooling myself by thinking that I have been a good listener. (Yah, I'd like to think I'm better now.)
Communication is a crucial part of human relationships. Listening is just as important as talking. If you can’t listen and communicate effectively, then misunderstandings and conflicts become your norm.
That's why active listening is an essential skill if you'd like to have a lasting relationship with your partner.
So listen carefully to these beneficial tips
- ACTIVE OR GENEROUS LISTENING: This is the type of listening in which you are actually paying attention to everything the person is saying. No stray thoughts. No strategizing your responses. No cutting them off. You’re being generous with your time and letting them freely express themselves and complete their thoughts. Have you had a conversation with someone who just keeps cutting you off? How do you feel when that happens? How does it feel when someone lets you talk until you get your complete thoughts out? Feels nice, right?
- BE NEUTRAL WHEN YOU'RE ACTIVELY LISTENING: If you start attaching feelings and judgment to what they’re saying, you’ll start formulating responses in your head and stop listening. Do you get antsy waiting for them to stop talking, so you can blurt out what you think instead? When you’re in a neutral state, you have more capacity to actually hear what they are trying to tell you. It also helps you to be more patient and open-minded, too.
- BE CURIOUS OR FASCINATED ABOUT WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: When you’re curious, you lean in more into the conversation. You want to know more. You’re less likely to get distracted by other thoughts because you become much more engaged in what they’re saying. After listening to what they’ve said, ask questions based on what you’ve heard, then actively listen again. This also helps someone feel heard and understood, which is what we all want to feel, right? If we expect this from others, then we should do it ourselves first.
Even if your love language isn't words of affirmation, we humans have the basic desire to be seen AND heard.
But… there are exceptions
- CONVERSATIONS ARE A TWO-WAY STREET: There’s a flow—a back and forth. If one person is dominating the conversation, that’s a soliloquy—the ramblings of one person who doesn’t know when to stop talking about something or themselves. You can be actively listening to them… to a point. You have to set your boundaries and declare that you are a part of the conversation as well rather than just a mannequin sitting there quietly being talked at.
- SAY “NO, THANKS” TO STREAMS OF COMPLAINTS OR CRITICISM: There’s venting and then there’s emotional dumping. Check yourself first to see if you’re in the mental space to support them in what they're going through. You have the right to protect your own mental well-being by telling them: “hey, I'd rather not talk about this right now” or “could we talk about something else instead because this is making me feel uncomfortable?” Also, take note if this is a consistent pattern of them complaining continuously but also choose not to do anything to change their situation. You don’t need to immerse yourself in that pool of negativity.
- BE GENUINE: Don’t fake it. If you’re not interested in having a conversation about something or not in the mood to socialize at all, tell them straight up. Forcing yourself to sit through a conversation isn’t good for you either. This goes back to setting clear boundaries and being true to yourself.
The times we listen the least are during arguments. Both sides are standing guard with their armor up, poking at the other person trying to find their opponent's weakness, and win the battle. When you approach conflict in that manner, you choose to have a winner and loser in the situation.
When this happens in a relationship, what if instead, you both decide the relationship as a whole is the winner or the main goal? Then both sides are collaboratively choosing to actively listen to each other's perspectives and find ways to resolve the conflict at hand together as a team. Ultimately, wouldn't you agree that is a win-win for both sides and the relationship as a whole? (Psst, if an apology is in order, read this to improve your apology as well.)
You can’t change how someone else communicates with you, but you can change how you react to what they say and how you communicate with them. Use how people respond to you as a gauge and feedback system of your communication skills. If they’re not responding to you in the same way you expected them to be, start taking notice as to why. Awareness is always the first step!
Practice active listening to change the quality of your conversations.
P.S. If you'd like a book that'll help you become a better listener, check out “I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships” by Michael Sorensen.
August 22, 2022