Why and How Active Listening Skills Can Improve Your Relationship
Are you a good listener? Even if you think you are, chances are you’re not as good a listener as you may think. Studies have shown that we only remember between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear. Imagine that you’re giving a twenty minute presentation at work. This means your colleagues only really got ten minutes of what you said. And if your boss is giving you instructions, you’ve probably only remember half or less of what she said! Yikes! Hope the all important bits were in that 50 percent!
It’s pretty easy to see how improving your listening skills can help you out at work. And it’s not too hard to imagine how much better your relationship could be if you became a better listener. Think of all the misunderstandings and arguments you could avoid! Your partner will also be happier, since being listened to makes us feel more acknowledged and valued.
So, how can we improve our listening skills?
What is Active Listening?
One way to become a better listener is to practice something called active listening. Usually when people have a conversation, part of their minds are elsewhere. They may be distracted by something they have to do after the conversation or, instead of listening attentively, they are thinking of what to say when it’s their turn to talk, like a counterargument.
Active listening aims to correct this through a structured pattern of listening and responding to help build good listening habits. The listener pays close attention to what is being said and how the speaker is saying it – examining what emotions are behind the words. After the speaker has finished talking, the listener repeats what was said in his or her own words. This gives both the listener and the speaker the opportunity to see if the listener accurately understood what was said. If not, the speaker can elaborate on what he said or try to explain it in a different way that is clearer for the listener.
Active listening is particularly helpful in conflict resolution. During an argument, when you are trying to explain your side of things, have you felt like your partner just wasn’t listening? This probably made you angry and lash out, saying something nasty to pique their attention. Or it made you feel sullen and withdrawn. Active listening can help both of you explain in more detail what and why you feel that way. This leads to quicker and more harmonious problem-solving.
How can I practice Active Listening with my partner?
- Minimize distractions
Listening is hard enough without distractions. Turn the TV off. Put your cell phone on silent and put it in another room.
- Give feedback
Your body language is key here, but don’t just give the ol’ nod-and-smile. Also, try your best to respond without judgement. Don’t interrupt, but do ask questions when the meaning is unclear. It can be hard to respond without emotion, but just let your partner know when this is happening. Taking this step back to acknowledge your emotional response can help you calm down enough to give better feedback.
- Understanding does not mean agreeing
Sometimes repeating what the speaker has said can make it seem like the listener is agreeing with what was spoken, even though she is merely trying to ascertain whether or not she has properly understood what the speaker is saying. To avoid this, it can be helpful to start with leading phrases like “I’m hearing that ___” or “It seems to me like___” or “I think I understood that ____.” This also reinforces to the speaker that the listener is doing their best to hear what the other person is saying.
If you would like to learn more about practicing active listening skills, contact one of our counselors. Our couple therapists in Houston are available for face to face sessions as online therapy sessions in limited areas. To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.
Below are more blog posts on relationship issues:
Sign up to be notified of group and workshop dates.