The Art of Active Listening
This being the month of February, we wanted to take some time to focus on strengthening relationships, whatever stage you’re at. Ask anyone who’s ever been in a serious relationship and chances are they’ll tell you that there are times when they feel closer to their partner and times when their significant other seems rather distant. That distance can develop in a number of ways. It might be that both of you are working long hours, or that you’re more focused on your children’s needs than your relationships. One way to work at strengthening your relationship is to engage in active listening. In this week’s blog, we take a deeper dive into what that means, how you can improve at it, and the benefits that active listening can have when it comes to building and strengthening relationships.
All too often, one of the reasons that people grow apart is that they seemingly stop taking a vested interest in what the other person has to say or contribute. You might feel as though you’re listening, but what you’re really doing is simply ‘hearing’ what the other person has to say. What’s the difference, you ask? You may remember from middle school science that the definition of ‘sound’ involves two components: creation and detection. There’s even that age old question to help us remember it: If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s because without anything ‘receiving’ the sound, scientifically, there’s no way to prove it existed. Active listening is not that different. We can hear what a person is saying, the words are registering as sounds, but not actually ‘receive’ the message and listen to what the words mean to the person who’s saying them.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. As your partner starts to explain a story or pose an objection to your idea, you’re already formulating a response. You might even think you know what your significant other is going to say simply because you’ve ‘heard’ them say it before. In these cases though, we aren’t really hearing them: the message isn’t necessarily being received. Rather than simply hearing, we want to encourage you to actively listen. Take in what your partner is saying, think about it for a moment. Maybe even count to ten after they’ve stopped speaking, and as you do, contemplate their feelings, their emotions, and what might be going on inside their hearts and minds, before responding. Taking the time to consider your partners inner state is a major component to active listening. Without it, they may feel ignored, dismissed, and devalued.
Another way of engaging in and demonstrating active listening is to ask non-judgemental questions about what your partner is expressing. One example might be to simply ask, “when you say this concerns you, what I’m hearing is that you worry about x. Is this what you mean?”. Another example might be to ask for more information. If they’re talking about their favorite sports star, it might be asking them more about them, or what about that player makes them so talented. It might mean asking about the pattern of a shirt, blouse, or dress, or why color blocking appeals to them. Demonstrating that you heard what they were talking about and that you were listening enough to have meaningful questions about whatever your partner is talking about is a way to show them you love them, care about their interests and happiness, and are actively listening to them, as opposed to dismissing them.
There are so many benefits to active listening when it comes to strengthening your relationships. This is just one way to work at your relationship, however. If you and partner are struggling to connect with one another, members of our trained staff are here to assist you in overcoming those challenges. We understand how challenging it may be to find availability, and that’s why we’ve recently expanded our telehealth options as well, so don’t hesitate to contact us. Our goal is to help you build and strengthen your relationships.