Skilled thoughtful communication is the foundation for satisfying relationships. We teach effective, assertive communication skills along with conflict resolution and negotiation to individuals, couples and families.
It has been said that ninety percent of getting the message in communication comes from listening. One study reported that the number-one requested help in relationship and marital therapy is for partners to learn to listen. The medical power of listening has also been proven by various studies.
By developing our own listening skills, we can be more successful in all areas of our lives, personally and professionally. Remember that listening to anyone helps them feel heard, understood, important, valued, respected and cared about. Our partners in turn become better listeners when we learn to listen and we will, in turn, feel heard, understood and respected. The need to be heard and understood is basic to our survival because it reinforces our cooperation with others. Learning to “have a voice,” to be heard and listened to is also an important part of growth and development. Feeling ignored and misunderstood provokes deep anxiety and sense of frustration, whether we are six or sixty. Often, it is more important for us to feel heard than to actually get what we said we wanted.
Tips for More Effective Listening
1. Listen non-judgmentally. Attempt to identify the underlying feelings (ex.: “It sounds like you felt disappointed…” “How did you feel when…”).
2. Listen with empathy and focus on feelings. Show understanding and connection (ex.: “I understand.” “I see.” “I know how you feel.” “I have felt that way, too.”).
3. Clarify and paraphrase, particularly the feelings (ex.: “So, you really felt insulted, is that it?” “So you felt ___ and ____?”).
4. Do not judge with your body language or facial expressions. Help the person focus, while showing interest (ex.: “What bothered you the most about it?” “What did you like the most?”).
5. Don’t show disapproval.
6. Don’t spend your time “preparing your response.”
7. Don’t interrupt, evaluate or jump to conclusions.
8. Use eye contact.
9. Allow long pauses before asking questions; be patient.
10. Give your full attention; stop other tasks.
11. Avoid “scene stealing,” advising, interrogating, “sending solutions,” correcting, and debating. Sometimes you need to use an assertive or authoritative request to get the person you are trying to communicate with to listen. It is important and most effective to request to be listened to when you are not hyper-aroused, but, rather, calmly and rationally.
Suggestions of Ways to Make Assertive/Authoritative Requests
• Will you please just listen?
• When I ask you to listen and you start giving advice, you have not done what I have asked.
• When I ask you to listen and you start telling me why I shouldn’t feel the way I do, you are invalidating my feelings.
• When I ask you to listen and you start trying to solve my problem, I feel underestimated.
• When I ask you to listen, it does not mean I am helpless. I may be faltering, depressed or discouraged, but I am not helpless.
• When I ask you to listen and you do things which I can and need to do for myself, you hurt my self-esteem.
• But when you accept the way I feel, then I don’t need to spend time and energy trying to defend myself or convince you, and we can focus on figuring out why I feel the way I feel and what to do about it.
• And when I do that, I don’t need advice, just support, trust and encouragement.
• Please remember: what you think are irrational feelings, actually make sense if you take time to listen and understand me.
Alternative Categories of Response
Silence, Passive Listening
• Listening to another person’s message without verbally responding.
Silence can be a powerful, “non-verbal” message, communicating acceptance. Sometimes all the other person needs from you is to be heard. This is something that can be accomplished by simply “listening,” attending to them, and avoiding the twelve previously listed “roadblocks.” (Note: there are no 12 roadblocks listed previously. Do you want to add them to this document or do you want to revise this sentence?) Passive listening communicates acceptance to the other person if the listener gives their undivided attention, setting aside all other tasks and concentrating upon the person’s words in such a way that they are aware that they are being listened to. The obvious limitation of passive listening is that the other person has no idea whether he has been understood, only that he has been heard.
• Verbal, non-committal responses to another’s message.
These responses convey the idea that you are listening. Such messages or expressions as “Oh,” “I see,” “Um-humm” lets the other person know that you are “tuned in” to them, but offers no content, judgment, or evaluation of your own. These responses simply allow them to proceed with their communication.
• Verbal responses that are invitations to say more.
Such responses as “I’d like to hear about that.” “Would you like to talk about it?” “Tell me about it.” “Sounds like you have some ideas and feelings about this.” are all ways you can communicate your willingness to continue hearing. They encourage people to talk or continue talking. They “keep the ball with the other person” by leaving your feelings and thoughts out of the communication. Door openers convey acceptance of the other person by telling him, in effect, “I respect you as a person with a right to express yourself,” “I really want to hear your point of view” and “I am interested in YOU.”
• Messages that convey back to the sender empathic understanding of his communications.
Active Listening is the process of “decoding” the words a person uses to express an idea or feeling and “feeding back” to the sender his decoded message for verification. In active listening, the receiver does not send a message of his own, such as evaluation, logic, advice, analysis, or questions. They feed back only what they feel the sender’s message meant, nothing more or less. Active listening helps people free themselves of troublesome feelings by encouraging the free expression of these feelings. In this way, active listening fosters emotional catharsis. It helps people become less afraid of feelings. When you accept a person’s feelings, he learns that his feelings are not “bad.” Active listening promotes a relationship of warmth between you and the other person. A person who experiences being heard by you feels close to you and you begin to feel warm and close to the other person as you gain understanding and appreciation through hearing.
Active listening facilitates problem-solving by the other person by helping them think through a problem out loud, using you as a “sounding board.” Active listening influences the other person to be more willing to listen to your thoughts and ideas. When a person has been “heard out,” he finds it much easier to be receptive to things you want to say. Active listening is one of the most effective ways known to foster self-direction, acceptance of responsibility, and independence in others.
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