Effective Listening in Relationships

Everyone has an innate need to be "heard", and Effective Listening constitutes many different skills that will have a person feel heard and that you truly "get" them. In a study conducted by Adler and Proctor in 2001, they found that adults spend an average of 70% of their time engaged in some sort of communication, of this an average of 45% is spent listening compared to 30% speaking, 16% reading, and 9% writing.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I spend a BIG chunk of my day actively listening to clients, to their stories, but also to the emotional nuances of their voice, the silences etc. It is a skill that I have built a lot of muscle on over the years, but a skill that is a continuous work in progress!

Active Listenings as a skill is imperative to your every day dealing within your relationships -  whether they be romantic partners, family members, friends, clients, students, customers,  etc. It is a skill that most of us can improve on...

Let's look at whether you have the basic listening skills before we get to some Tips on how to become an effective listener. Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Are you able to tune out distractions?
  • Do you avoid interrupting the other?
  • Do you communicate interest through your body language and facial expressions?
  • Do you read between the lines and hear the emotions behind the words?
  • Do you make eye contact while listening?

I know these might seem like simplistic ways to improve listening skills, and many of you might have all of these down to a tee already. But let me reassure you, these basic listening skills can make a world of difference in the outcome of the connection. Whether that is to build rapport with someone, whether it is to hear how you can best serve your prospective client or whether it is to build on your intimate of family relationships.

I would like to address each of these questions to show how they could make you a more effective listener.

Tune out distractions

Whether you are with a partner, client, friend or colleague give them due respect and focus on what is being said. You might need to switch off your mobile or the television in order to give someone your full attention. If you are in a noisy environment, like a restaurant, try and block out the noises, or go somewhere where there are fewer distractions. Also, try and tune out inner distractions. This might be something that needs more practice, but thinking about your grocery list while someone is talking turns into "passive listening", where the words just wash over you and you are not really taking in what the other is saying.

When you are so busy thinking about what you are to say next, or the next part of your "comeback" you might miss some really valuable information that your significant other will be sharing with you, but not just that, they will leave there feeling unheard and disconnected. 

Do not interrupt

There is a great quote by Mark Twain that says: “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Don't talk, listen.  When somebody else is talking listen to what they are saying, do not interrupt, talk over them or finish their sentences for them - Just Listen! When the other person has finished talking you may need to clarify to ensure you have received their message accurately. Ever notice that we word "listen" have the same letters as the word "silent"?

Body Language

Pay close attention to the speaker’s body language. Gestures, facial expressions, hand movements and eye-movements can all be important.We don’t just listen with our ears but also with our eyes – watch and pick up the additional information being transmitted via non-verbal communication. Watch for non-verbal cues giving suggestions as to how the spoken information is to be interpreted or how they really feel about a situation. They might say something, like "I am not angry" while slamming their fist on the table... Which really means that they might be angry, even though they say they are not.

Your own body language while listening is equally important. Do you seem interested in what they are saying, pay particular attention to your facial expressions and how you are standing or sitting? Does your facial expression show interest and compassion if the situation calls for it? Also your hands/arms. Are they in an open, relaxed position ready to receive the talker's message or are they folded and in a blocked position?

Listen to what is not being said

Someone might find it difficult to say what is on their mind or they want to tell you something that is quite challenging for them. So listen to what is not being said. The talker might "skirt" around a subject and not wanting to address it directly or they might try to convey something in a roundabout way.

 

Eye Contact

Eye contact is a sign that you happen to be a good listener! Now, what has the eye got to do with listening? Keep eye contact with the person you are talking to as this indicates that you are focused and paying attention. It means that you are actually listening to what the person has to say. That is where the saying “Don’t just listen with your ears” comes from. Your eyes are a way of building a connection with the other person.  You feel comfortable talking and communicating with the person.

When you do not maintain eye contact while listening to someone, they might feel that you are not listening to them or that you are not interested in what they are saying. Practising good eye contact is a skill for effective and vital communication and is grossly under-rated and under-utilised. Keeping eye contact with the person you are talking to indicates interest and saying to the person “You are important and I am listening”. Eye contact is one of the “unseen” tools used in any event communication.

I do hope that you find some of these tips for active listening helpful. You will be amazed at how the quality of our connections change when we hear those we love and in return feel heard by them. 

Blessings to you on your journey. 

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