Listening skills aren’t easy for a lot of us, especially during a global pandemic when we’re especially stressed and easily distracted. The art of communication is more than just talking; it requires listening and paying attention. You have to learn how to be a good listener, as most of us aren’t born with it.
Every relationship you have needs communication to survive, and that takes work. The good news is that it’s not hard to learn how to be a good listener. In fact, if you’re someone who feels like you could use a brushing up on your communication skills, here are a few pointers that you can start using right away to help you have more meaningful connections in all of your relationships.
1. Validate Feelings
Have you ever had someone tell you that you’re overreacting or to stop crying during a conversation? I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard that at one point in our lives. The thing is, it doesn’t feel good to be dismissed by someone you care about, especially in times of heightened stress or intense discussion.
Feelings matter, regardless if you agree with them or not. One of the greatest things you can do for someone is to validate their feelings when you’re learning how to be a good listener. Tell them that you hear them and that you acknowledge how they feel. When you do that, you’re creating a relatability element by showing you understand the other person’s feelings.
When you can be more relatable to someone you care about, it raises the level of trust in your relationship. Back in March, when the pandemic started, my eight-year-old son was struggling with virtual learning away from his friends and school that he loved so much. There was no closure for him, and it was apparent in the way he approached is day as he refused to acknowledge school because it wasn’t physically in his classroom.
Most days included a breakdown of some kind, which was very stressful for all of us. One day he was laying on our living room couch, crying about how awful the situation was for him. “I want to go to school and see my friends. I miss my teacher. This is the worst thing ever,” he sobbed. As I watched him in that moment, I realized I had two choices: I could tell him to stop it, suck it up, and go to school, or I could get in it with him and help him understand that I, too, was experiencing the exact same feelings.
I decided to sit with him and take him in my arms, hug him, and tell him I felt the same way. That I wanted him to be in school with his friends, that I wanted him to be able to go to soccer practice and have fun, that I missed my friends, too, and that yes, you’re right, this is the worst.
Once I did that, something shifted. He looked at me with the realization that I did understand what he was going through because I had a similar experience. Demonstrating relatability, validating his feelings, and being a good listener to his needs helped us have a breakthrough in our communication.
2. Be Present
Distraction is all around us. With lots of information being thrown at us at a million miles an hour, it’s no wonder communication in relationships can suffer. When you are in a discussion with someone you truly care about, whether it’s your life partner, a good friend, or you child, make sure you are free of distraction during your conversation.
Having little to no distraction allows you to be a better listener. It allows you to focus on the conversation and really digest the discussion. Furthermore, it helps in allowing you to be thoughtful and considerate in your interaction.
I find that my most successful conversations happen on neutral ground. It helps to reduce stress and remove judgement from the interaction. Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been on walks, while driving in the car, or even laying in bed with the lights off. I can be fully present and engaged with the ability to absorb the conversation at hand, especially when the conversation is about a sensitive subject.
It’s hard to have an uncomfortable conversation sitting across a table or not in your own territory. It can make it feel more like an interrogation and can often start with apprehension or having your guard up. When you do your best to eliminate that from the situation, you’re offering a desire to find a solution by creating a safe space to listen and communicate more successfully.
We tend to expose ourselves and our feelings easier when we feel like we’re not being judged. When my husband and I need to have a hard conversation, we often go for a walk or have a conversation in the middle of the night in the dark. The absence of distraction allows us to truly listen to each other’s needs and desires and creates a stronger bond of respect and intimacy.
As you’re trying to learn how to be a good listener, respond, don’t react. How many times have you regretted the way you reacted to a conversation with someone you care about? Whether it’s a personal or professional relationship, the way you reply is important.
Because we’re human and it’s only natural to get defensive, especially if the communication is not something we agree with, we typically react without giving consideration to the big picture. That isn’t helpful when you’re trying to make progress in a situation.
You may be thinking, how does listening come into play when you’re replying to someone else’s engagement with you? It doesn’t matter if you’re having that conversation via text, email, or in person; the way you absorb the information is going to directly affect the way you have your interactive dialogue.
Think about a time when you’ve been at work and received an email from a co-worker that triggered you. It’s happened to all of us. A lot of times, we hit the reply button and go to town unloading our feelings and thoughts without taking the time to fully digest and consider the content in front of us. We’re not “listening” to what our peer is requesting.
Handling delicate situations can be tricky. That’s why I like to advise my clients to respond rather than react, and start with the end in mind. When you’re faced with a challenging situation, think about how you want that particular experience to be resolved. Do you want to be able to walk away with a hug, an agreement, and a positive outcome? If so, the way you do that is by being a good listener and planning your response.
Communication in any relationship, personal or professional is hard. We have to be committed to showing up and doing the work to make sure they are successful and thriving. Learning how to be a good listener plays a huge part in the success of each and every one.
The next time you find yourself in a situation where you need to pay attention, remember to validate, be present, and respond with thoughtful consideration. You’ll be amazed at how much your interactions improve.
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