The Art of Listening

One of the most common complaints that brings couples to relationship counselling is when one, or both partners feel uncared for. Women’s feelings of not feeling cared about is one of the strongest predictors of separation and divorce.

While there are many ways to show care one of them is listening to each other. When our partner listens to us we feel that we are important enough for the listener to spend time with us, and we feel that we are being heard and taken seriously. We our partner listens and validates what we are saying we build up trust, as the listener indicates is generally on the same page, even if they don’t agree with everything.

Often we don’t want our partner to necessarily agree with us (although sometime we do), mostly we want to be understood and acknowledged. This understanding forms a bond of intimacy between couples. As the saying goes: to know me is to love me. Not everyone who knows me will love me, but the one who loves me hopefully want to really know and accept me. Therefore talking and listening to each other is a way to deepen intimacy and to show care in a relationship.

Benefits of good listening:

  1. acknowledge the speaker,
  2. increase the speaker’s self-esteem and confidence,
  3. tell the speaker, “You are important” and “I am not judging you,”
  4. gain the speaker’s cooperation,
  5. reduce stress and tension,
  6. build teamwork,
  7. gain trust,
  8. elicit openness,
  9. gain a sharing of ideas and thoughts, and
  10. obtain more valid information about the speakers and the subject.

How to Listen with Empathy

Empathy is the ability to project oneself into the experience of another person in order to better understand that person’s emotions or feelings. Through empathic listening the listener lets the speaker know, “I understand your problem and how you feel about it, I am interested in what you are saying and I am not judging you.” The listener clearly expresses this message through words and non-verbal behaviours, including body language and tone of voice. In so doing, the listener encourages the speaker to fully express themselves free of interruption, criticism or being told what to do. It is not necessary for the listener to agree with the speaker.

Here are some specific guidelines:

  1. Be attentive. Be interested. Be alert and not distracted. Create a positive atmosphere through nonverbal behaviour: e.g. eye contact, open stance, soft tone of voice.
  2. Be a sounding board — allow the speaker to bounce ideas and feelings off you while assuming a non-judgmental, non-critical manner.
  3. Ask questions that demonstrate interest and encourage the speaker to go into more depth.
  4. Don’t ask questions that give the impression you are interrogating the speaker.
  5. Act like a mirror — reflect back what you think the speaker is saying and feeling.
  6. Don’t discount the speaker’s feelings by using stock phrases like “It’s not that bad,” or “You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
  7. Don’t let the speaker “hook” you. This can happen if you get angry or upset, allow yourself to get involved in an argument, or pass judgment on the other person (this is very hard when the listener is hurting too).
  8. Indicate you are listening by
    1. Providing brief, noncommittal acknowledging responses, e.g., “Uh-huh,” “I see.”
    1. Giving nonverbal acknowledgements, e.g., head nodding, facial expressions matching the speaker.
    1. Invitations to say more, e.g., “Tell me about it,” “I’d like to hear about that.”
  9. Follow good listening ground rules:
    1. Don’t interrupt.
    1. Don’t change the subject or move in a new direction.
    1. Don’t rehearse in your own head.
    1. Don’t interrogate.
    1. Don’t teach.
    1. Don’t give advice.
    1. Do reflect back to the speaker what you understand and how you think the speaker feels.

Reference: Image by jamesoladujoye from Pixabay