Why listening should be your number one priority in every relationship...
When it comes to relationships, be it friends, family or lovers, we all crave that feeling of truly being understood, being heard and valued for simply being ourselves and expressing ourselves openly and honestly.
We also, all know the old adage; treat others the way you wish to be treated.
So if you want to build, improve and maintain healthy relationships the language of listening can be an invaluable tool. It will not only improve communication but foster mutually beneficial growth, human connection and love.
The Impact of Listening
It is no secret, the most successful relationships are based on successful communication, with the value of being heard and understood a foundational key to human connection.
When we feel heard, we feel supported, safe and secure. We tend to let down our metaphorical walls and invite trust and confidence in our relationships. This feeds a positive cycle and enables further growth and support for all parties.
When we feel heard we can express our thoughts and emotions more clearly, solve our problems through collaboration and find the support we need to empower us to become the best version of ourselves.
Whether celebrating a victory or attempting to solve a problem, try listening to hear, over listening to respond. You as the listener don’t need to have all the answers. In fact, often when people talk they have the best solutions within themselves, they just need the time and opportunity to process and organise their thoughts to come to the best conclusion.
Let the person speaking do the heavy lifting, they know their situation better than anyone else.
Next time you find yourself in conversation try to incorporate some of the following.
Active listening is simply being involved in the process of listening, rather than passively hearing the words being spoken by the people around you.
To actively listen, you need to put some effort into hearing the words and observing the behaviour of the speaker, essentially being an active participant in the conversation.
Some people suggest active listening should involve all five senses, yet I find the most valuable signs of active listening are:
Posture- hold an open and inviting posture, facing the speaker and demonstrating your physical openness to receiving what they have to say.
Eye-contact- by making eye contact, we show the speaker we are focused on what they have to say and our attention is solely on them.
Mirror their facial expressions- whether it is a smile, a frown or a look of bewilderment, this is a non-verbal reflection that you have heard what they have said.
Distractions- avoid any distractions to your ability to listen and the speaker’s ability to speak. Whether it be looking at your phone, playing with your hair or moving around, just don’t do it.
Similar to active listening, mindful listening focuses on being present in the conversation and devoting your attention to the speaker without distraction.
Mindful listening requires you to be aware of your role as the listener and direct your energy into the present moment and situation.
When practising mindful listening, here are some points to focus on:
Be present- avoid the temptation to let your mind wander, you don’t need to formulate an answer, create a solution or solve any problem. Right now you just need to listen.
Be authentic- come from a genuine place of truth and honesty that best represents you. Try not to come across as patronising or insincere as this can, of course, be offputting to the speaker.
Non-judgmental- even if you don’t necessarily agree with what the speaker is saying, try to keep an open mind and invite the opportunity to learn something new.
Deep curiosity- there are endless opportunities to learn from everyone we cross paths within our lives. Approach each conversation with a deep curiosity and an intention to learn something new.
Get comfortable with pauses and silences- don’t be afraid of silence. Often the speaker will need a moment or several to gather their thoughts and continue with what they have to say. Avoid the temptation to jump in straight away and instead wait for cues they are done speaking.
The Perfect Response
When the time comes to respond, I often like to maintain the focus on the speaker. I find the principles of motivational interviewing can be useful in demonstrating or clarifying your understanding of what has been said.
These techniques can also be especially useful when it comes to problem-solving or simply being more open to seeing the speakers point of view.
Ask open-ended questions- try framing questions around words such as how and why and avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
Make affirmations- similar to positive reinforcement, by using positive affirmations we can encourage the speaker’s self-worth and promote their confidence. Try making statements like “You really care about your family” or “It took a lot of courage for you to tell me that.”
Use reflections to demonstrate your understanding and empathy- try paraphrasing what you’ve heard to ensure you have correctly understood what the speaker has said, and to show them that you understand and care about this.
Summarise what you’ve heard- it can be useful in certain situations to summarise what has been said throughout the conversation and highlight any specific take-aways, solutions or lessons learnt for both you and the speaker.
Effective listening is an essential element of communication, which in itself is a cornerstone to any relationship.
Next time you are speaking with someone, especially those you love, remember these three principles:
Actively listen to what they have to say rather than passively hearing their words.
Listen mindfully, bringing your full awareness to the present situation and conversation, not just what you want to say in response.
When the time does come to respond, maintain focus on the speaker by asking open-ended questions, using affirmations and reflections and maybe even summarise what you have heard them say.