When people talk about communication skills, it seems more often than not that they are referring to giving communication, on a verbal and nonverbal level. And we are all in a variety of places when it comes to our ability and comfort level to communicate.
Some are good at chatting. Some are good at sharing thoughts and ideas. Some are good at sharing their feelings. Some are not as good at or comfortable with one or more of these things. And it is important to work in these areas to a reasonable degree, especially with spouses, children, parents and other close ones to us. As a dear friend of mine said, we should be living and experiencing life with everyone around us, not just one select person (if even that).
But I believe the other side of communication is not referenced enough: listening. Some of us may have heard or read a good message or two about it, but let us just drop a few encouraging reminders to circulate our thinking and permeate our mode of operation…
Listening well impacts a relationship dramatically. It engages the person’s heart and makes them feel valued and treasured, special, or at least wanted to some degree. It allows them to continue to open up and share what is within them, as well as who they are. They feel important and liberated to give of themselves.
And this can be appropriated on any level of relationship, not just marital or otherwise intimate.
Contrarily, not being a good listener is a translucent wall that slowly obstructs the flow of overall communication and begins to deter it from where it should be. And especially if the poor listener is a good talker, things become one-sided with a feeling of imbalance and even self absorbance. The other person begins to feel less significant and less motivated to interject or express, and it can eventually lead to shutdown, since these types usually do not know how to speak up about it and tell what they are observing.
So, what is good listening, then?
Before getting into specifics, we must realize it is rooted in genuinely caring about the individual. Really caring about their life and the fact that something interests them, whether important or not, and whether otherwise interesting to us or not. There are practical ways to exemplify this, but this is the heart of it all. Here are a couple fundamental tips for good listening skills. There may be more, but these two things can cover a lot of bases themselves.
First, ask questions about what is being shared, or reflect statements of what you are hearing from them. This shows that you are in fact listening, and it gives the feeling that what the person is sharing is important to you, which translates to that person feeling valued themselves. That is in fact the definition of a conversation, anyway, is that each speaks back and forth on the same topic for a spell, and then moves onto another topic.
It does not mean you have to have one to three questions for every topic shared. But make it a habit to ask at least one question or make a comment about what the other shares with you during the course of a conversation. Try it. You would be surprised at the effects. If you stop and think of how it feels to be acknowledged when you speak (or do something), it makes you feel good, about yourself, and the other person. It makes you feel closer, even cherished in some way. And it will become more natural over time, and a part of your communication habit!
[Men, if you think this is a waste of blog, you will thank me when you are married if you try this then. But women–you too. You likewise do not want your men shutting down on you.]
Oh, and a bit of a PS note on this: try to make this a consistent habit, and not just when you feel sorry or sensitive or bad about something that you are trying to mop up a little with extra affection. 🙂
Second, it shows itself in undivided attention. Yes, you modern age multitaskers have to put your texts and computers on pause, at least part of the conversation, and give your undivided attention to who you are talking to, in person or on the phone, at least a significant part of the time. This dignifies who you are talking to, and it gives value to them and what they have to say. There is not much more annoying for many than talking to someone who is doing something else all the time.
Understand that it is very reasonable to multitask when talking sometimes. Just be realistic on all sides. Bottom line is if it is with every conversation, then it is possible the person would simply rather have 15 minutes of undivided attention than 1 hour of divided attention.
Moreover, even if either does not mind very much, or if the one who minds does not speak up, we are harboring and reinforcing a microwave-based, inattentive mentality and lifestyle that does not know how to say No to things, how to unplug, how to slow down, how to pause in life, WITH life…how to live a moment with someone personally…and to really experience that moment with them…to feel the texture of life instead of sanding it with our high speed chase and high speed internet and high speed mind.
Practice the pause. Understand the breath between notes is what makes the sound of music palatable and meaningful.
Listen. Listen to your spouse. Your friend. Your parent. Your child. You will be amazed at what you hear, what you learn. What you find you need. What you were missing out on for so long. And what you get in return…
Listen, and you will hear the sound of waters rushing in an ocean. The sound of wind across a field. Listen, and You will hear God.