Learning to Listen
“I listen to respond instead of listening to understand”
Consider this statement. It is simple, yet powerful. In fact, it describes most people. We are egocentric beings – we live within our own minds and it can be challenging to step out of our own experience and our own urge to respond in order to actually hear.
One of the most important skills that a couple can develop is learning to listen in order to understand, rather than respond.
Do you listen to respond or understand?
If you listen to respond, in conversations you will:
1. Respond with your own feeling or story
2. Rebut the person’s story of events
3. Criticize or become angry
4. Make corrections
6. Change the subject
If you listen to understand you will:
- Sit silently while the other person speaks.
- Take a moment before responding to ensure they have finished.
- Give eye contact, nod your head, make sounds affirming you are listening “oh…” or “wow” or “oh no!”.
- Show empathy and express validation
- Ask questions and show curiosity
- Explore their story, enjoy getting to know more about them.
Here is a fun exercise you can do tonight with your partner:
Ask your partner (friend, child, sister, brother, etc) to tell you a story from their childhood. For the purpose of the exercise keep it light – for example, what was their happiest memory? What is a funny embarrassing moment? When were they pleasantly surprised?, etc.
As they tell the story, imagine that you must repeat it back. This will encourage you to free your mind of it’s wanderings. When it begins to wander (thinking about your own experiences, a response you want to give, etc) bring it back to really focusing in on their words. You are imagining you are an empty vessel that is being filled with the story.
Once they have finished repeat the story back to them and ask if you missed anything. If so, let the person tell you what you missed. If not, this is when it gets fun!
Try to make the conversation go as long as you can without redirecting it to yourself – ask questions, allow for explanations, pry – just be super curious even if about minute details!
This is a great exercise for training your brain on how to listen and show interest.
Let me know how it goes!
You can contact Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist in Philadelphia, PA. She support individuals to managing challenging relationships and to heal after the loss of breakup. She helps couples build the tools they need to love each other they way the intended.
Elizabeth offers therapy in office and online and also has several home study programs.
For more information click here!