Listening – the secret to a good relationship

Listening is a process that is much deeper than mere hearing; it requires involvement of not just your ears, but also your mind and heart.

coupleYou're upset and disturbed by something that happened at home or at office and need to make some important decisions. You have two friends one who is good at identifying problems and solving them and another who does not really get involved with your problems but simply nods, pays attention and says, 'It must be awful for you to have to go through this.' Which friend would you rather approach for help? As an answer to a hypothetical question, you'll probably say the former but my guess is that when you're really feeling down, you'll instinctively choose the latter. Because, while decisions are important, most of the times, when we feel upset, all we are really looking for is someone to listen, not someone who doles out advice.

Listening is not the same as hearing

Listening is a process that is much deeper than mere hearing; it requires involvement of not just your ears, but also your mind and heart. You ask a friend how she's feeling and she says 'good' if you take that at face value, you've just heard her reply to your question; if you notice that she's got a worried look and a slight frown and decide that something's really not quite right, you've 'listened.'

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Often, we tend to take things for granted and when someone is speaking, we don't really pay attention. As a result, we don't keep our mind open enough to interpret the signals their words and body language send and this leads to improper communication. In some situations, when people are talking about something that we find unpleasant, our mind closes even more quickly, and we lose out on listening.

Listening and Relationships

When it comes to relationships, listening is perhaps even more important than speaking. If you want to really understand what the other person is communicating, you need to be able to listen. When you can give complete attention, concentrate on what is said and also notice what is left unsaid in words but expressed through body language, it is much easier to understand the message being conveyed.

Most often, the best way to decide how to listen to someone is to remember how we want others to listen to us. Stop what you are doing, look at the person who is speaking, pay attention to the words and sentences, the tone and speed of the voice, the look on the face and the gestures being made. When you do this, you will notice any mismatch between the message in the words and the body language, helping you get a valuable input on how to tailor your response. As you begin to perfect the art of listening, you are sure to find that your conflicts with your significant others begin to reduce and relationships become more fulfilling.

Tips to be a good listener

Listening calls for a lot of practice and patience; paying attention, nodding your head, making the right conciliatory noises can be quite difficult when your tongue is struggling to jump right into the conversation, presenting your own point of view. Here are a few tips to help you hone your listen skills

  • Practice listening during casual conversations when no important information is sought from you. Listen to your spouse, children, parents or friends when they talk without venturing your opinion.
  • When someone starts talking, make it a point to stop whatever you are doing, look directly at the person and concentrate on understanding how he or she is feeling. As Scott M. Peck, renowned psychiatrist and author of the bestseller The Road Less Travelled says, 'You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.'
  • Keep your mind on the topic being spoken of; don't let your prejudice cloud your understanding of what is being communicated. To be able to do this, you have to be fully aware of the present without wandering to thoughts of your past experience with this person. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you develop this habit of staying rooted in the present.
  • Don't interrupt unless absolutely essential; wait for the person to finish speaking and then ask questions or convey your points. This lack of interruption conveys your sincerity of purpose in listening.
  • Make it a point to clarify that you have understood right. Repeat in your own words what you believe you heard the communicator say. This gives that person feedback of how he or she sounds and it helps to clarify the issue at hand; often, this simple step can help avoid misunderstandings that otherwise balloon out of proportion.
  • When you can sense someone needs time, wait respectfully. Don't rush in to give the person words to express his feelings or to finish his sentences; be patient and invest your time in simply being there, without being judgmental.

Listening is an art that is difficult but not impossible to master. All it takes is a little patience and a lot of love. All humans have a deep need to be understood and one of the best ways to convey such understanding is to truly listen. As you begin to listen to people around you, you will begin to understand things you never conceived of and this will give you an insight that helps you build deep and loving relationships. As Ed Cunningham rightly points out, 'Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.'

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