While listening takes as much skill as talking and it’s just as big a part of communicating, it’s something most of us have not been well schooled to do. We were taught something about trying to make ourselves understood when communicating, but nothing about opening ourselves to receiving messages from others with as little judgment as possible.
Here are some “how-to’s” for listening techniques:
- Mirror back what you’ve just heard. “So you think we should give our money away and move to Chile?” Listening to what you thought you heard may enable your partner to clarify the original message.
- Paraphrase. “So you mean that you think we should give up what we have to help others?” Paraphrasing helps both of you figure out whether you have gotten the message straight from the original speaker.
- Summarize. “Let’s see if I have this straight. You’re tired of working in a dead end job and you’d rather do something that is more meaningful. Is that it? Have I understood?” See if you can put together a brief summary of what you think you heard and how you understand it.
It’s impossible to respond appropriately unless you’re responding to what was said and unless you pin down the intention behind the words. This takes a lot of discipline, but it pays off when you’re able to act in a way that gives you a bit of emotional distance. Families have different ways of processing information too, so learning how to really hear your spouse may be like learning a foreign language. Be patient with yourself and forgive yourself if you make a mistake. And by the way, be patient with your spouse too!
From FOUNDATIONS Newsletter