More than being given a chance to speak, we all need to feel heard. Without feeling heard, our communication is empty — like speaking into an abyss, void of connection. And, without connection, what’s the point of communication? Here are 10 tips to improve your active listening skills for excellent couple’s communication.
What is Active Listening?
The truth is, learning how to listen is even more important than learning how to speak. Because it’s in the listening that we actually connect. Listening is so important, that there is an entire school of therapy dedicated to basically just listening. A good listener draws out of their partner their inner truths, so much so that they rarely need to say anything at all. The wisdom presents itself, just through the act of remaining practically silent.
But keeping quiet does not a good listener make. Listening is half-science, half art. The science behind active listening involves knowing when to nod your head, make attentive gestures, and mirror messages letting your partner know that they have been heard, and that you understand. The art involves sending emotional-signals and using body language showing you care, are interested, and can relate. The two together ensure a safe-space where your partner can unload. This leads to emotional relief, and often times self-realized solutions, to boot.
I once had a first-time client who came into my office so exasperated, he started off the session with the following demand:
Mr. Feldman — I really need to express. If you would do me the favor of just listening the entire hour, I will gladly pay you twice your going rate.
He was starving for a caring ear, not good advice or an alternative opinion. He needed an active listener.
Listening is a skill. Like any other skill, to become good at it, requires some direction, and lots of practice. Here are some tips to up your active listening skills:
- Give your 100% full attention. No phones, magazines, books, or side-activities allowed.
- Make eye contact. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but focus intently on your partner.
- Really pay attention. To both the words and the body language.
- Listen empathically. Use phrases such as “Wow, that sounds tough” or “It seems like you were in a bind” to empathize with the difficulties your partner faced
- Don’t ever make your partner justify their experience. What they think and how they emotionally experience their lives is 100% valid, for them. Never argue with their version of emotional reality.
- Don’t be thinking of what to say as soon as they are finished. Just let go of your need to give advice or fix the situation.
- Have patience. When they are through, ask – “Is there anything else you want to share?”
- Repeat something said that meant something to you: “I really think that you handled that situation well”. This will allow your partner to delve deeper into a point which may be bothering them.
- Validate their reactions and understandings: “I can really see why you feel upset. That makes 100% sense”. So, so important.
- If it is about you, take lots of deep breaths. Don’t feel like you must respond. Just listen and try to understand your partner’s perspective.
At the same time, active listening is one of the most difficult parts of communicating, as well as one of the most profound gifts we can give our partners. Expect to fail, a lot, and to improve very slowly. But don’t get discouraged — the good news is, most of us have the opportunity for lots and lots of listening practice 😉