Learning to listen is important in building important relationships. Now, let’s continue with our life lesson on a skill that is so important to our relationships, LISTENING.
Surely you have experienced the difference between being listened to and being heard. It is highly probable that you have been on both sides of such situations. Recall a time when you believed the other person attempted to listen to you. How did you feel? How did you think this experience helped you? Now, can you recall a situation when you were trying to have a conversation, and the other person was distracted, or their attention was diverted by something else? When someone continues to repeat this behavior, relationships decline, disappear, or remain stuck where they are.
Not all conversations require deep listening. Some are more surface and require less effort, but it is a good thing to listen well in these times as well in order to establish a pattern of trust, which can lead to a deeper relationship. Good listening tells me you care about me and the things that are happening in my life. When you listen to me, it means you have put your immediate needs and concerns on hold and are investing yourself in me. It is one of the best ways I know to say, “I love you.” I have enjoyed this kind of love from many people in my life, and it is a life-changing experience.
What is required of you to be an active, loving listener? In my book Marriage Is What You Make It,2 I make some suggestions about being a “focused listener” that apply to all healthy relationships. Focused listening involves paying close attention to what someone is saying and how they are saying it. Listening is hard work, but the payoff is enormous. Here are some tips you may want to consider:
- Make a strong effort to hear what the other person is trying to say.
- Minimize all external distractions by turning off the TV, radio, phone, and so forth so you can pay attention.
- Turn down the internal distractions. Calm your mind and emotions by taking a deep breath to relax or use some other calming technique to enable you to listen.
- Compartmentalize or momentarily put aside concerns that may interfere with your ability to listen. If you are distracted by your project or what is next on your agenda, you cannot focus on what the other person is saying. When a critical discussion is taking place, don’t allow anything but an emergency to disrupt it.
- Hold yourself accountable for listening well. If you allow yourself to become distracted, apologize and ask the person to repeat what was said. Doing this will serve as a good discipline for you and will convey to the other person you are trying to listen to.
- Wait for your turn to talk. Avoid interrupting, arguing, correcting, or formulating your response until you are sure you have heard what was said.
- Pay attention to nonverbal communication that is taking place. The tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language give additional information about the importance of what the person is saying. Words are the basics of the “communication soup,” but the nonverbal elements can be the spices that give the soup a lot of its flavor.
- Test how well you listen. When the other person has come to a stopping point, repeat or summarize what you have heard. Allow the person to correct any misunderstanding and continue the process until it is your turn to respond.
- Consider the importance of your listening presence. Sometimes we need to be present with people who are hurting, and there is nothing we can or should say to fix the situation. Your presence and listening ear is what they need. Allow them to talk, but do not feel the need to say something “spiritual” to comfort them. Your presence and care are the spiritual help they need. Just be there and listen.