When your spouse speaks, you hear words, but are you really listening? Studies have shown that we only remember between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear. We think we’re listening to the other person but in reality we’re not giving our full attention to the conversation.
One of the main reasons couples divorce is because they lost the ability or never had the skills to communicate with one another. Poor listening skills lead to the breakdown in communication in a marriage. Imagine how much better your relationship can be when you become a good active listener.
One of the most important elements of good communication is listening, as it builds deep positive relationships (Weger, Castle, & Emmett, 2010). Active listening is about being an engaged mindful listener rather than a passive listener. The listener pays close attention to what is being said and how the speaker is saying it – examining what emotions are behind the words.
Usually when people have a conversation, part of their minds is elsewhere. Here is a list of the most common mistakes we make when listening to other people:
Daydreaming or thinking of something else (even something as simple as your list of groceries) while another person is speaking.
Thinking of what to say next or when it’s their turn to talk
Judging what the other person is saying
Listening with a specific goal/outcome in mind
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist expert, Jemma Coleman, describes Active Listening as showing someone “…you are listening using your facial expression, verbal feedback, and body posture. It is not simply hearing someone—it is communicating to them that you want to fully understand them before offering your response or reaction.”
Here are a few steps on how to become an active and empathetic listener:
Step 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
Step 2: Be attentive.
The dictionary says that to "attend" another person means to:
· be present
· give attention
· apply or direct yourself
· pay attention
· remain ready to serve
Step 3: Keep an open mind and Let your partner speak
Listen without judging your partner or mentally criticizing the things she or he tells you.
This simply means that you should refrain from arguing your case until your partner finishes stating her or his position. Resist the urge to interrupt and cut off your mate mid-sentence.
Step 4: Put yourself in your partner’s shoes
Try to focus on your partner’s needs and feelings. This point also means allowing yourself to be in your partner’s shoes for a moment and trying to understand where your partner is coming from and relate to his or her lens. Set your own perspective aside for the moment.
Step 5: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Think only about what the other person is saying.
Step 6: Don't interrupt and don't impose your "solutions."
Let your spouse finish what they are saying. Interrupting sends a variety of messages. It says:
· "I'm more important than you are."
· "What I have to say is more interesting, accurate or relevant."
· "I don't really care what you think."
· "I don't have time for your opinion."
· "This isn't a conversation, it's a contest, and I'm going to win."
Step 7: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
When you don't understand something, of course you should ask the speaker to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the speaker pauses.
Step 8. Paraphrase what your partner says
Paraphrasing means confirming what you have heard through verbal summary.
Step 9: Express what the speaker must be feeling.
If your partner expresses sadness, joy, and fears, etc., convey those feelings through your facial expressions and words.
Step 10: Give the speaker regular feedback.
Show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker's feelings.
Dos and Don’ts:
· Do listen actively to what your partner is saying and try to figure out the meaning.
· Do allow your spouse to change his or her mind while talking.
· Do allow your spouse to develop what he or she started telling you.
· Don't try to change his or her experience to your experience or understanding.
· Don't jump to the defense or to the attack.
· Don't turn the conversation into one about yourself, your experience, or your understandings.
Active Listening deepens your own intimate knowledge of your spouse by actively listening to what is being said and trying to experience the world through your partner's experience. In this way you can understand your partner on a deeper level.
If you would like to learn more about practicing communication skills including active listening skills, we are here to serve you at Sam Nabil Counseling Services.