One of the most important skills everyone should learn is the art of being a great listener. From a young age we learn to express ourselves in lots of different ways both verbal and non-verbal. Learning to listen is a lifetime learning process. Thanks to the work of Dr. John Gottman and The Gottman Institute, there is now a few basic guidelines to help you practice this important skill.
Be Prepared to Listen
You may be surprised that listening takes effort. You must be ready to listen. The easiest way to prepare to listen is to focus on who you are speaking to and put your own feelings and thoughts aside.
Show genuine interest in the other person. Most people have a bad habit of thinking they need to make themselves interesting during a conversation. When most people just need you to pay attention to them. It helps to try to see the world through your partner’s eyes. Be what you think they need at the moment.
Being attuned to the situation means paying attention and being present. The goal is to truly understand what your partner is saying and feeling.
Things to Do:
• Ask questions when you do not understand what something means
• Use open-ended questions when you can
• Don’t be judgmental – this is the time to gather information, not give advice or try to fix things
• Remember to breathe and be respectful
Things to AVOID:
• Being critical
• Being defensive
Reflect What You Hear
We do not always hear things the way that people intend for us to understand them. Misunderstandings can be avoided if you restate what you hear in a different way. This will help your partner to know that you are listening and understanding what they are saying.
Empathy goes a long way. Unlike sympathy, empathy involves having a real understanding of how someone is feeling. This does not mean that you have to experience exactly what they have but try to see it as if you were in their shoes.
If you are struggling to find empathy, then place yourself in the role of being their cheerleader and biggest fan. The most important part of a relationship is to be a team against everyone else.
Going Beyond the Basics: Advanced Listening
Once you have practiced the beginning steps you can add in some more advanced listening skills. The Gottman Institute has identified four advanced listening skills that will help you and your partner communicate better and on a deeper level than ever before; avoiding unnecessary conflict.
1. Read between the lines.
When people talk, they are often saying much more with the way they are talking then they are actually speaking. The way people use their body and the way that statements are made can give many clues to what they are meaning to say.
2. Have regular conversations to help reduce stress.
Talking about the little things keeps them from growing into a bigger things. Take the time to find out what is important to your partner and learn who is in their world.
Setting time aside on a regular basis to have good conversations is one of the best ways to connect with your partner.
3. Just be there and listen
We have all fallen into the habit of wanting to fix things for our partners. What we need to do more than anything is just be present and supportive.
Listening is much more involved than anything we could possibly provide in just a few short words. However, with practice and intent, anyone can improve their listening skills and in turn help to build a stronger relationship through communication. For more information on how to be a great listener, check out the additional resources from The Gottman Institute.
Sometimes it takes more than just reading about a skill. If you and your partner need practice in doing this effectively, you can see a marriage counselor to help you do this.