Ten Tips for Improving Your Listening Skills
In a Relationship

by Samantha C. Gorman, M.S., N.C.C., L.M.H.C.

One of the most common contributors to conflicts in a relationship is the lack of effective communication. Many times, partners either lose the ability or the will to communicate, or never had good skills to begin with.

Listening skills is a critical component of good communication. On the other hand, poor listening skills can lead to the breakdown of communication. Below are some tips on how to be a more effective listener and communicator.

1. Make Listening a Priority

When you and your partner are communicating, you should make an effort to concentrate your effort on what is being said. It is suggested that you do not engage in other activities while they are talking to you, such as reading the newspaper, using the computer, watching television, balancing your checkbook, or anything else that could distract your attention. Be aware of your own agenda, and rather than planning on what you will say next, only concentrate on listening to your partner. When you and your partner are communicating, listening means doing so with your full, uninterrupted attention, trying to maintain eye contact as much as possible. This will not only show your partner that you are listening, but it will actually help your level of concentration.

2. Show Your Partner You Are Listening

It will be important to your partner to know that you care about what s/he is saying. Not only can you do this by giving them your full attention, but you should also actively participate in the conversation. Good conversationalists will not interrupt, but at the appropriate times, answer or respond in some way. Ask for clarification or an example, if you’re not sure about what your partner is telling you. Most importantly, engage in the conversation, and show them that it’s just as important to you as it is to them.

3. Don’t Interrupt Each Other

In an effort to listen to your partner, it is important to minimize interruptions. The more your partner is “cut off” from what s/he is saying, the more difficult it becomes for him/her to share feelings and another issue is bound to emerge. Your partner will most likely become more frustrated, and this may interfere with the desire to communicate. When your partner is speaking, allow them to finish their thoughts, and then your turn to speak will come.

4. Keep An Open Mind

When your partner is talking about an issue or concern, it is important to remember to keep an open mind. Whatever they’re expressing to you must be important to them, so you should try and understand where they’re coming from. Rather than jumping to conclusions or acting defensively, try to be open to what they’re saying, and remember, let them get through it without any interruptions! You may find that you may understand each other better, and your communication skills will improve.

5. Be Careful With Your Non-Verbal Communication

One of the most important components of good communication is non-verbal communication. In fact, your feelings and opinions are often more readily conveyed by non-verbal communication than through actual words! Body language can convey sadness, depression, anger, or many other emotions. For example, if your partner is speaking to you, and his/her shoulders are slumped, eyes look small, forehead is wrinkled, or breathing is fast, this may mean that your partner is feeling overwhelmed, sad, or distressed. Pay special attention to posture, eye contact, facial expressions, and speed and tone of voice. This will clue you into how they’re really feeling, and will help you to address these feelings. And remember that your non-verbal communication can play a role in whether your partner feels comfortable talking with you, or feels that you’re being negative or critical.

6. Stay Focused

While you are paying attention to non-verbal communication, your partner may be doing the same. When you are conversing with your partner, try to show positive, constructive body language. Try to minimize looking at the clock, shifting your position, looking away, or pacing. Such outward expressions can indicate to your partner that you are bored or not completely “into” what they are saying.

7. Show Respect

Even if you disagree, you should show your partner that you respect what they are telling you. It is important for both partners to express their opinions, and it is just as important for each of you to respect the right of the other to have this opinion. Many times when partners disagree, it may be enough to “agree to disagree”. It’s when one of the partners argue with their partner about their opinion that causes a problem. Remember that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. Even if you do not agree, allow your partner the opportunity to express him or herself. And remember, unless you listen carefully, you won’t know what comments lead you to agree (or disagree)!

8. Set Time Aside to Discuss Conflict

An essential component in listening to each other is allowing time to share. In the hustle and bustle of your lives, it is important to set time aside to discuss any problems, or even share the joys of your day. By not scheduling time together, it will make it more difficult for you and your partner to connect, verbally as well as physically. This can certainly interfere with effective communication!

9. Restate!

One of the best ways to show that you are listening to what your partner is saying is by restating, or paraphrasing, what you’ve just heard. Even if you totally disagree with what your partner is saying, by restating it you demonstrate that you were, in fact, listening. That can then lead to even your disagreements being better received, because your partner can think, “Well, s/he may disagree, but at least I know that what I said was heard.” In addition, if your restatement includes inaccuracies, it’s better for them to be corrected at this point. Otherwise, inaccurate interpretations of what is said can increase the likelihood of arguments.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice!

The art of “active listening” can be difficult, especially for someone who is used to doing the talking, or someone who is a chronic “interrupter.” In your conversation with your partner, your child, your colleague, your friend, or your loved ones, practice the skills you’re learning, agree with your partner that improvement takes time, and commit to continuing to work on this. You will find that your communication skills improve with practice… and this can certainly help your relationship!

Because of how important listening skills are for good communication, it makes sense to do everything you can to work on them. Are you listening? 🙂

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