As social beings, humans have an inherent need to communicate and connect with others. However, in today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up in our own thoughts and distractions, leading to poor communication and strained relationships. One crucial aspect of effective communication is active listening, which involves paying attention, understanding, and responding appropriately to the speaker.
You might be thinking, “Wow, Ash. Listening. What a revolutionary concept.” Of course, we’d all like to think we know how to listen, but the truth is many of us aren’t always listening actively to our partner. There’s a difference between listening to respond and listening to understand.
In the world of life coaching, active listening is one of the core competencies taught and assessed in any reputable coach training program. I was surprised to find out I didn’t have a full grasp on how to demonstrate this skill until I went through my coaching program in 2021. I found it to be extremely helpful as it helps to build strong relationships with clients and provides the insights and information needed to provide targeted guidance and support.
Active listening involves several components, including nonverbal cues, verbal responses, and empathy. To start, nonverbal cues such as eye contact, nodding, and facial expressions show the speaker that you’re engaged and interested in what they have to say. Verbal responses are another essential aspect of active listening. These can include clarifying questions, paraphrasing, and summarizing what the speaker said. These responses not only show that you’re paying attention but also help ensure that you understood the message correctly. Empathy is the final component of active listening. This involves putting yourself in the speaker’s shoes and trying to understand their perspective. It’s not about agreeing with them, but rather acknowledging their feelings and validating their experience.
“Active listening is the foundation of effective communication. When we listen actively, we create a safe and supportive environment that fosters trust and understanding. It allows us to connect with others on a deeper level and to gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Active listening is a powerful tool that can help us build stronger relationships, resolve conflicts, and achieve our goals both personally and professionally.” – Lisa M. Schab, LCSW, psychotherapist and author.
So, how can you put active listening into practice with your partner? Here are some tips:
- Be fully present: Put away distractions like your phone and give your partner your undivided attention.
- Use nonverbal cues: Show that you’re engaged by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and using facial expressions.
- Practice active listening skills: Use clarifying questions, paraphrasing, and summarizing to show that you’re understanding what your partner is saying.
- Practice empathy: Try to understand your partner’s perspective and validate their feelings, even if you don’t agree with them.
Active listening is an essential skill for effective communication and building strong relationships. By using nonverbal cues, verbal responses, and empathy, you can show your partner that you care and value their thoughts and feelings. Remember, communication is a two-way street, and active listening is just as crucial as speaking. By taking the time to truly listen to and understand your partner, you can deepen your connection and build a stronger, more fulfilling relationship.
Until next time,
The other side of the active listening coin is you shouldn’t be expected to read someone’s mind. If the person doing the talking is obtuse, all active listening does is move what the listener thinks from pure speculation to presumption. It’s an informed guess, but it’s still a guess.
It took a marriage counselor to get me to understand that “Do you want coffee?” could be more then a “Yes” or “No” question. My wife told the marriage counselor that I wasn’t living up to her expectations. In exactly those words. One of the things the marriage counselor did was to assess our respective communication styles.
After the assessment, the marriage counselor said that she thought we loved each other and wanted to be together but our communication styles were so different that she didn’t know how my wife and I could agree on a restaurant, let alone discuss anything meaningful. My wife also expected me to “just know things.” I had to learn to be more receptive to nuance and my wife had to learn to be more direct, which we did. She also had to cut me some slack because my upbringing was significantly different from hers and there were a lot of things that I didn’t know. I was willing to accommodate her but she had to let me know her expectations.
Active listening can also get you into trouble if you’re not careful. I started posting on a website that I found interesting. The woman that ran it liked what I had to say and asked me to be a moderator. She had a large body of online work. I read it all and started reading between the lines. We became online pen pals.
I got the sense that there were problems in her relationship although she never posted or said anything directly about them. She was also experiencing a professional setback. I could tell when she was down and I’d say something to cheer her up.
She noticed it. After I sent an email, I got this back, “You always seem to know when I’m down and what to say to make me feel better. What do I telegraph to you?”
4 years later, her relationship collapsed and I ended up in a full-blown emotional affair with her. It’s long over and we haven’t spoken in years.
All because I listened.