Effective listening is the key to good communication. Many disagreements in relationships occur when people think others are not listening (and therefore not understanding) them. Whether miscommunication arises in the home, workplace, or with friends, effective listening skills go a long way towards addressing misunderstandings and establishing healthier communication patterns.
Tips to improve your listening skills
Make sure you are actively listening
Hearing is different to listening. Give the other person your full attention. This could mean staying off your phone, facing them, or not thinking about what you are going to say next. Show the other person you are listening: give them a nod and use verbal prompts (such as “uh-huh” and “I see”).
Don’t cut the person off
Even if you are keen to show someone you agree with them, it’s important you let them finish. People often are not going to say what you think they are. By jumping in to finish their thoughts you are imposing your own ideas on what they are saying.
Try not to offer a solution immediately
Sometimes people just want to share what they are feeling and are not looking for you to fix anything. Take the time to hear them out and understand things from their point of view. A person may often come up with their own solution once they’ve shared their feelings with you.
It’s not all in the words
A large amount of communication is non- verbal. Meaning is constructed through facial expressions, a person’s tone of voice, arm movements etc, so it’s important to observe as well as listen. Also be aware of your own non-verbal cues – folding your arms, not looking at the person, or looking at them “blankly” could signal disinterest.
If you don’t agree with someone, ask questions first to make sure you truly understand what they’ve said. The questions should always be related to what you’ve heard. Don’t ask questions designed to change the subject, or to emphasise your own knowledge.
Show you have listened and understood
Finally, make sure the other person knows you have heard them. One way of doing this is to wait before responding, to make sure they have no more to add. You could also try summarising what you’ve heard. For example “I just want to make sure I’ve understood. I think you are saying…”.
With so many things competing for our time, it can be hard to be active listeners, but if we aim to listen more, we may be rewarded with healthier communication patterns, and also with knowledge.
As the Dalai Lama wisely observed:
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama
If you need relationship help and want to talk to a counsellor, call MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78.