Couples often come in and say, “We need help with our communication,” and the presumption is that they need to become better communicators–by which they mean better talkers. But the best thing you can do for your relationship is become a better listener.
Here are some tips for improving your listening with everyone in your life–your partner, friends, colleagues, kids. They’ll all benefit, and so will you.1) Notice when you’re just waiting to talk.
Sometimes we’re biding our time, patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for our turn to speak. This is really dangerous for your relationships. It means that you’re presuming that what you have to say is more important than what they have to say.
If that’s how you feel, deep down, no wonder you’re not really listening. You’re also not respecting the other person you’re in relationship with.
This is especially prevalent with our kids. We think that we have so much to teach them, if they’d only listen. But in reality, they’re trying to teach us the most important things of all–who they are, and how they see the world. If you don’t know that because you haven’t listened, then how are you going to speak to them in a language to which they can relate? How will you be heard?
2) Know your raw spots.
When we’re emotionally triggered, listening is hard to do. If someone is your life keeps triggering you so that you’re wanting to argue your points rather than hear theirs, then you need to figure out why, and let them know what’s happening.
You might have to take breaks from the conversation; you need to begin to heal those raw places for yourself; the other person will need to respect that process.
3) Write it down.
Writing is a valuable way to organize your thoughts, and once you’ve done that, once you’ve purged, you might find it much easier to listen to the other person. Or maybe you both need to write things out, read them, and then come together in conversation. This lessens the triggering that I mentioned above.
4) Recognize that a conversation is a collaborative effort.
You’re a team here, trying to reach a new understanding. If you keep attacking and/or defending, then that can’t happen.
Try to enter a conversation from a neutral perspective. Assume that an understanding can be reached, and that will happen best if you can listen more than you talk.
5) Yes, I said it–aim to listen more than you talk.
It can be a tall order, but it’s a worthwhile exercise. It will expose whether you’ve been trying to dominate the conversations–i.e. dominate the relationship with your own point of view. And that is also a dangerous proposition, as it can breed resentment in your partner and make it ever-more difficult to have productive conversations.
By striving to listen more, by forcing yourself to take the perspective of another, you should them how much you value and respect their participation in the relationship, and that will likely lead to increased good will and more positive interactions.
***Holly Brown is a therapist and author of the page-turning family drama Don’t Try to Find Me (now in paperback!) about a teen runaway and the family who’d do anything to bring her home, including launching a social media campaign that will expose their secrets and change their family forever. For more on the book, visit her author page.