Years ago, I took a college course on communication. We focused on improving our listening skills for a week or two. Before we got into the basics of what it means to be a good listener, I was feeling pretty confident. I really thought I had this listening thing down.
One day our professor assigned us to simply listen to a friend for a few minutes. We couldn't talk or give advice — just make eye contact or give verbal cues that we were listening and then just be silent. It was the hardest thing in the world for me. I couldn't believe how many times I had to suppress the urge of giving my two-cents. I was ashamed at how often my mind wandered half-way through the conversation. It was then I realized that my listening skills were seriously lacking.
Whether you feel you are a top-notch listener or need to really brush up on your listening skills, here are some tips for truly internalizing the conversations we have in everyday life.
Turn off and tune out all other stimuli
It's kind of ironic that we have all this technology to keep us connected, yet sometimes it is the very thing causing the disconnect in relationships. When your spouse or child walks through the door after a long day and needs a minute to vent, don't just silence electronic devices, turn them off or put them away. And, don't wait for your partner to ask, "Can you please put that away while I talk to you?" Show the people in your life that they have your full attention. You are simply demonstrating that the conversation and the speaker are what's most important — not email, Facebook, and text messages.
Be mindful of body language and eye contact
Most women are natural multi-taskers. This can be a blessing and a curse. If your child seems to be really struggling with a problem, don't just casually listen while you put away a stack of dishes. Turn and face your child and keep eye contact. You'll not only prove your attentiveness and love, but also show that other things can wait.
How many times has a friend said something that reminded you of that one time when something similar happened to you and you are just bursting to share? Relating to another person's experience isn't a bad thing, but sometimes the timing is. You could be interrupting — which is rude. Or, you could be unintentionally story topping — which is annoying. It's best to wait until your friend has finished her story and then assess whether what you have to say is even worth sharing. Sometimes people just need to have their moment.
Don't let your mind wander
We all are guilty of this. Your spouse is upset with a problem and needs your listening ear — but you're trying to remember whether you paid that bill or not. Training your brain to tune into the now is tricky — especially if you already have a lot on your mind or what is being said isn't all that interesting. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. What if you knew your spouse was tuning out half of what you actually said? Giving your full attention to your speaker should show in body language and thought process — especially when listening to those who occupy our homes and hearts.
Take a few seconds to respond and avoid advice overload
We are so quick to work in our responses. No sooner does the other person take a breath between thoughts than you feel the need to interject your knowledge, perspective, or worse, unsolicited advice. This is something many men have earned a bad reputation for — rushing in with an easy fix to the problem when their partner simply needs to vent. Let the other person have the stage for as long as she seems to want it. When you sense she has finished her story or thought and is waiting for feedback, then give your response. If your spouse has just shared a dilemma or bad day with you, try to wait until she asks for advice before you offer solutions. Sometimes we just need a sounding board, not a Fix-It Felix jumping in with his golden hammer and shouting "I can fix it!"
If you are unsure about something in the conversation or just want to make certain you are on the same page as the speaker, ask things like, "It sounds like you want , is that correct?" or, "I want to get this right. So you're saying ." It will let the other person know that you truly want to understand. Also, asking questions will not only help you remember the conversation better (which could be a life saver when conversing with your partner or boss) but you are letting the other person know that you want to avoid any potential misunderstandings.
If you really want to improve your communication and daily interactions with others, particularly with the ones in your home, it starts by being a good listener. Remember to put away the distractions, maintain eye contact and tune into the conversation. Don't rush in with advice and ask questions for a full understanding. You will not only discover less misunderstandings, but you will also create healthier relationships with the people you love.