by Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT
Listening is a skill. It’s the ability to hear someone and understand and also make them feel understood. We aren’t naturally very good at listening. Human beings are ego centric by nature, which means we easily relate everything and anything back to ourselves. Good listening is so hard! My colleague Deirdre Cosgrove and I joked the other day that sometimes in our personal lives we forget how to listen ( and listening is our craft!).
So how can you say start to practice being a good listener? Imagine that you’re going to have to repeat back what the speaker is saying. This will challenge you to stay focused so that you’re brain doesn’t get side tracked with what you want to say next.
Let’s talk about how to speak so that people will listen AND understand in intimate relationships. Just like listening, speaking to be understood is a skill. If you constantly feel like “people just don’t understand” it could be that they aren’t good listeners, but hey, you’ve got no control over that. It could also be that you’re “losing your listener” in the way that you speak. And you DO have control over that! And in the therapy world we are all about what you DO have control over.
To be a good speaker try to following:
- Pick a good time. Middle of the workday, as soon as someone walks in the door, while the other person is stressed – not good times! Quiet, calm moments are the best but I know these are hard to come by. Try planning it or choosing some ritualized space (dinner time, tv time, etc)
- Take a breather! Don’t say too much. Say what needs to be said and then allow a response. It’s easy for our listeners to get lost in our words if we aren’t brief and clear. If you’ve got a lot to say make that apparent at the beginning of the conversation. Sometimes when we’re anxious we don’t know when to “stop”. Use your breathing to help remind you.
- Use gentle startup – “I’ve noticed —-, it makes me feel ——, I need —-“. Speak as if you like the listener.
- State positive needs. A positive need is when you say what you DO want instead of what you DONT want. “I need you to help with the dishes” instead of “I don’t want you to leave dishes around”.
- Pay attention to tone and nonverbals
- One thing at a time! Even if you have a laundry list, just focus on one thing at a time. It makes it easier for the other person to give their full attention and is less likely to create defensiveness.
How do you try to be a good speaker? What do you notice about people that are easy to listen to? What do you find to be your biggest challenge with listening?
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is a licensed marriage therapist in Philadelphia. Elizabeth supports individuals and couples improve the relationship they have with themselves and others through better communication, self soothing, and a clear understanding of what a successful marriage looks like. She believes that any committed couples who is willing to do the work can walk away from therapy with more clarity and connection in their relationship.