Listening: Is There Enough of it In Your Relationship?

by: Jennifer Cummings, Ph.D.

Have you ever thought your relationships would be a lot better if you were just a better communicator? “If only I were more direct, more diplomatic, more expressive, more eloquent, more SOMETHING!”

Of course, being a good communicator does help relationships. Expressing yourself openly and skillfully, with clarity and disclosure helps forge meaningful bonds, and just helps you get through the day. But as we know (and often forget), being a good communicator isn’t just about talk.

Closer, deeper, more satisfying relationships often have less to do with the words coming out of your mouth and more to do with hearing what your loved ones have to say. If you think about the people you feel closest to – the ones who really understand you (as far as that is ever possible) – I bet they are the people who really listen to you.

We all long to be listened to – and understood. We want to know that our thoughts, opinions, worries, feelings, and dreams matter to someone.

I have been blessed with incredible listeners whose tireless ears have seen me through good times and bad. If “listening fatigue” was a diagnosable condition, they might be in treatment now! Perhaps you have someone like this in your life. If so, chances are, what makes them a great listener is their willingness to do three (somewhat) simple things:

1 – Stop, drop, and listen.Not every conversation calls for our full and focused attention, but some do. And when it matters, we want someone who will put down the smart phone or turn off the television and, if only for a few moments, exist solely for us. Such selfless focus might be easier said than done, but when someone you love is anxious to share a part of them with you, nothing shows you care like dropping everything, looking them in the eye, and giving your undivided attention.

2 – Listen in silence.The Lost Art of Listening, Michael Nichols writes, “Listening well is often silent but never passive.” Indeed, listening quietly, without “checking out”, takes enormous mental discipline and emotional investment. It means not jumping in to finish dangling sentences, not rushing to fix what is still being evaluated, and not turning the conversation back to yourself (an Olympic feat for some). It means giving unspoken support while another takes whatever time and space is needed to detangle the jumbled intersections in their head and move closer to finding their own answers.

3 – Give feedback.Of course, listening isn’t always about being silent. Sometimes we want others’ advice, opinions, or help. As a listener, knowing when to give silent attention and when to give feedback can be tricky. Two golden rules of advice-giving may help:

One: Generally speaking, if people want advice, they will ask for it. It is usually that simple. “I need your advice,” “What do you think?,” or “Tell me what to do!” are all green lights for dishing out your sagest wisdom. If you don’t hear some variation of that invitation, your energy is probably better spent listening quietly and supportively.

Two: Listen, then advise. Even when input is wanted, people want to be heard and validated first. Recall Steven Covey’s now famous habit of successful people: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Before you weigh in, let them explain the issue, including all the details they deem relevant. You may think you know enough of the situation to cut straight to the resolution, but if they’re not convinced you understand the issue, and what it means to them, they will be less likely to heed your advice.

Listening, by its very nature, is immensely selfless. We listen to our loved ones, not because everything that is interesting to them is interesting to us, but because what is important to them is important to us. Listening takes some skill and practice, but mostly it takes willingness.

If you have a good listener in your life, count yourself blessed. If you don’t, find one.

If you are that good listener, know that your investment is more valuable to your loved ones than you’ll ever know. If you’re not that good listener, your next conversation is a great time to start.

Jennifer Cummings holds a Ph.D. from the University of Utah, where she has taught for over a decade. She enjoys research, teaching, and consulting on communication and family relationships. Jennifer is a certified mediator/facilitator and has several years experience working with individuals and families in distress. She was co-editor of the book, Hope After Divorce, and co-author of Deliberate Motherhood: 12 Powers of Peace, Purpose, Order and Joy. Jennifer writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, and LAFamily.com.








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