The topic of listening is far from unfamiliar for most spouses, friends,
and family members. "Are you even listening to what I'm saying?"
It is a common question in most households and if we are being honest,
the answer is usually "no."
But why is this? Even more importantly, can this be the year we resolve
to become better listeners? In a recent article posted in the Wall Street
Journal, experts weighed in on this universal problem and shared several
tips that can be easily implemented in every relationship, starting today.
Why don't we really listen?
To put it simply, we are human. It is most peoples natural inclination
to interrupt when someone else is talking, whether to share a similar
experience or to simply turn the conversation in another direction. Whatever
the reason, it can be a big turnoff for whoever was originally talking.
Furthermore, it is easy to get tired of hearing a similar story or complaint
over and over. Relationship researchers call this "listener burnout"
and note that it is commonly avoided by prescribing a quick solution to
the problem to end the conversation.
It often seems easier to just get the conversation over with and move on,
but this can have disastrous results for any relationship, not just spouses.
Luckily, the answer to the problem may be nearer than you think.
Turn Yourself into an Active Listener
We often think of listening as a very passive activity. You sit and reflect
while the other individual takes their turn to talk. But according to
one communication professor, listening may be much more active than you think.
"Active listening" is a phrase often to describe how you should
listen to someone else. This type of listening takes more than just sitting
back and letting them do the talking. Practice engaging yourself in the
conversation, even if you are not doing anything more than making the
speaker feel heard.
This starts by engaging "immediacy behaviors" that communicate
your interest in the conversation. Eliminate all outside distractions
and face your loved one. Make eye contact as much as possible, for this
is the first way to show you care about what they're saying.
It's also important to respond to the person's words. Ask to hear
more about a particular event, sympathize with their feelings, and use
open-ended questions. You should also use short words throughout the conversation—something
as simple as "absolutely" or "yep" keeps you interested
and tells your loved one that you haven't drifted off.
Above all, remind yourself that you care about the person you're talking
to. Don't see the conversation as merely a means to an end, instead,
look at it as a way you can invest in their life and make them feel loved.
At the end of the day, making yourself an active listening can provide
the support your relationship has long been lacking.