7 Effective Listening Skills That Actually Improve Your Relationship
Are you a skilled listener? What does listening have to do with your relationship?
The thing is listening is key to all effective communication. Without effective listening skills, you can't have an effective communication with your partner.
Many people think that they know how to listen to others, but in fact they don't know at all.
They need to learn effective listening skills in order to know how to listen to people properly. I used to look down those people who said want to learn how to listen to others, in my mind I thought "Even monkey knows how to listen.".
But I was wrong.
Until one day that my relationship becomes worse then only I realized that listening skills are not a simple thing. It's something needed to learn.
Effective listening requires focus.
Effective listening involves observing body language.
Effective listening involves noticing inconsistencies between verbal and non-verbal messages.
I never thought listening is important, I thought "how to tell others what you want" is more important. Again, I was wrong.
Seek first to understand; then to be understood.
"The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention." - Rachel Naomi Remen
I started to learn listening skills when my relationship becomes worse due to ineffective communication. From my trial and error approach with my girlfriend, I learned there are 7 listening skills for effective communication and improving your relationship.
7 effective listening skills that actually work
1. Be responsive
You want to be responsive when listening to your partner.
One of the human needs is that we crave to be heard. Did you ever talk to your best buddies for a couple of hours or even whole night just want to share your stories with them? It's because you feel you want to share stories with them, and you want them to listen to you, you want to feel you are being heard.
However, if you actively tell stories to your buddies and they show boredom to you would you still want to keep telling them the whole story? No, you won't. You will quickly find an ending to end the story or you say there's a call you need to respond or you need to go toilet - anyway, you want to stop telling the story.
So, you can't show her you are bored or not paying attention. Otherwise, she will lose interests to talk to you.
You want to be responsive so she knows that you are listening to her. It's not that hard. You can just use some simple body language and other signs to let her know you are listening to her.
When she is talking, look at her, even if she doesn't look at you. Maintain the eye contact throughout the conversation. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that you want to stare at her. Just maintain the eye contact naturally, it's OK to look here and there, but you signal to her that your attention is still on her.
Besides that, you can nod your head to signal her that you got her message. Or with simple verbal response like "uh huh", "I get it.", and "I understand" also can signal her that you are actually listening. Put a smile on your face when she is talking something funny, so she will know you understand her joke.
Nothing is hard at here, but people likely forget the simplest things.
These simple moves show you actively engaged in listening to your partner, this would let her experience being heard. When the need of being heard is fulfilled, she feels a connection with you.
2. Stop doing anything
This one is one big mistake. I used to keep doing my own stuff when she is talking to me. For example, writing posts for WLL.
From my experience, it's essential to stop doing anything to fully focus on listening to people. You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by anything that will grab away your attention.
When you give divided attention, people will know. Especially your partner - women will know. They have great sixth sense (explained in my book). When listening to her, just put other thoughts out of mind. If you really appreciate your relationship, you will do it.
When you are doing something else while she is talking, for example, side conversations, she is not gonna feel heard. Orderly she doesn't feel a connection with you which is one of the fundamental emotional needs. If the thing she wants to tell you is very important and you give divided attention by doing something else chances are this will cause argument and resentment.
What if there's something you can't put aside for giving full attention to her? My way is straightly go to tell her that you are not available and set up another time. I would use the formula that I introduced in my previous article how to communicate better:
When we XXX (the situation), I feel XXX (feelings) because I need more XXX(needs).
When I'm doing my website stuff and seeing you want to talk to me, I feel annoyed because I want to fully focus on listening to you, I need more attention on making progress to my website. Can we talk after I finish my stuff?
Stop doing anything, period.
3. Listen without thinking have to respond
I used to likely reply people before they finish their talking. Normally before they finish their talking I already have opinions in my mind, and I can't wait to give out my idea to them.
However, this is actually interrupting people. What they crave is being heard. Interrupting not only neglects the being-heard need, but also is a waste of time. If you have to interrupt anyway, don't interrupt with counter arguments.
If hadn't I argued with my girlfriend due to my unnecessary responses I wouldn't know people should listen to understand but not listen to reply.
So, the third listening skill is you have to listen without thinking have to respond. Stop talking until people finish what they have to say. Before you ask questions or comment, you should allow the speaker to finish each point.
Don't impose your "solutions". Most of the time people don't need your solution or advice, what they want is being heard, they crave to be heard. Give them the heard feeling you'll be a good listener to them.
One thing I have noted that if I'm thinking what to say back to her in response, I'm not listening to her but the inner voice in my head. Then chances are I will be distracted by my own thoughts, feelings or biases. Not to mention that our personal filters, assumptions, judgments and beliefs may distort what we hear.
4. Listen with the intention of learning
So, when we say listening, what actually you listen?
It's not only about words. In fact, words are only the verbal message, there is also non-verbal message you should listen.
Let's say about words first. When your partner says about something repeatedly you can observe there's a pattern how she describes the thing. There are some keywords and phrases she will use more frequently which imply they are the things she concerned about. Listen to the keywords and phrases so you know what is her feeling and need.
For non-verbal message, it's a mix of different elements. There are certain things I have noticed that we should listen to - listen to the tone, listen to the body language, and listen to the news about what had happened to them.
When you are listening to people, try to listen to both verbal and non-verbal message. You want to listen with the intention of learning. From the conversation, you want to learn as much as you can about the feelings and needs of the speaker.
With the intention of learning, you show people you are actively engaged in listening to them. They can feel your curiosity and feel connected, these will make them feel being heard eventually.
5. Ask occasional questions or comments
Listening is about learning and understanding the message people want to deliver. In the third skill I said you should stop talking until people finish what they have to say.
However, you should occasionally ask some questions or comments to help you more understand what they say.
There is one common mistake, people think interrupting is not good (was explained in third skill) so they don't interrupt at all even if they don't fully understand.
In fact, it's OK to interrupt. You don't interrupt with counter arguments but interrupt with questions that help you more understand what have said. For instance, "What do you mean when you say...?", "Is this what you mean?". You can also summarize the speaker's comments periodically so you know your understanding is correct or not.
6. Keep an open mind
Keep an open mind is very important and critical to be a good listener. Your friends are not you, your parents are not you, and your girlfriend is not you. They come from different background, experience, and beliefs.
So you should keep an open mind in listening to people. Which means that you listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things they tell you.
For instance, my girlfriend told me she never properly eats a breakfast instead she eats brunch. But having breakfast is one part of my morning ritual. Our style of taking the first meal of the day is different. I don't mentally criticize or evaluate her, I just tell her why I eat breakfast and now she joins breakfast with me every day.
If I criticize her behaviors, that may turn into a more serious argument.
Furthermore, open mind means you listen without jumping to conclusions. For an example, my girlfriend told me she is angry at me. I don't simply jump to conclusions about her behavior, inversely I listen and try to figure out what are her exact feelings and needs.
7. Respond appropriately
Good listening is a model for respect and understanding. Therefore, it's not only about how you listen, but also how you respond. A good listener will respond appropriately so the speaker can feel a connection and feel being heard.
So what does it mean respond appropriately?
Generally, it means you should be candid, open, impartial, honest, patient and respect in your response. I always make sure I respond appropriately by self-observation and recall the way how I respond to people. I make sure I assert my opinions appropriately, without using bad words that may cause a harm to people.
And when I listen to people, I focus on what is being said and try to ignore the styles of delivery. People don't necessarily say or respond in appropriate way. They may being rude, impatient, dishonest, disrespect and whatsoever. We can't control people's behavior, but we can control our own. So I use the 6 former effective listening skills to understand what they said and make sure I respond to them appropriately.
To have an effective communication with our partner, we should learn listening skills. From my trial and error I summarized 7 effective listening skills that actually improve my relationship.
In short, you want to be responsive when your partner is talking to you, and stop doing anything while she is talking. So she visually knows you are listening to her. You listen with the intention of learning and without thinking have to respond, this will put your understanding at the first place. Then occasionally ask some questions to clarify your understanding, and summarize what she said in short comments. So she not only visually and also mentally knows you are listening to her. Keep an open mind and respond appropriately, this implies you are not only a listener, but a good one.
This is exactly all you need to know to become a skilled listener. I hope these 7 effective listening skills will improve your communication with your partner.
About the author
Rio Yee is the Founder of WealthyLoveLife and is super passionate about helping people change their mind and take action to improve your important areas in life such as dating & relationships, personal finance and productivity.