When we are communicating with others it can sometimes be the case that we are so keen to say what we want to say that we hardly listen to what we are being told. On occasion it can become almost irrelevant that the other person is there at all, if we feel that what we have to say is so compelling. The need to tell our story may well override all else.
Other times when someone is speaking we may feel that we know exactly what they are going to say. We either mentally or literally fill in the sentences for them. Sometimes that may be charming, the other person may feel flattered, it could be construed as a sign that we know each other so well, are so much on the same wavelength that we even think alike. Most times however that behaviour can come across as disrespectful, impatient and rude.
When communications go awry in partnerships of any kind, it is always useful to listen to both sides of the story, establish both points of view. Rarely is there one bad guy and one good guy. Most times it is simply that two people are feeling frustrated, disrespected and misunderstood. They may not know how to work out the situation for the best.
Each person will know how they feel, what is going on for them, what their issues are. The key to resolving matters is to clearly identify how the other person is feeling, what they perceive are the problem areas. Allowing them to speak and listening quietly are the only ways that this is going to happen and for mutual understanding to result.
Constructive listening incorporates a few useful skills:
– Identify the areas that you feel are the problem areas. Make a note of them and stay focussed. Examples may be useful as the discussion progresses, but at first stay with the actual problem areas. Maybe keep them to yourself at first.
– Ask the other person what they see as the problem areas.
– Silence is fine. Do not be tempted to fill in silences with your own observations and comments. If you wait the other person will usually continue with what they have to say. Be patient. If the relationship is worth saving then allow the other person time to become confident enough to say what they are thinking and feeling.
– Ask if there is anything else. This is the million dollar question, the one that usually gets to the heart of the matter. You probably know the answer to the earlier questions but this is the one that delivers the real information.
– Listen. Do not interrupt.
– Demonstrate active listening by reflecting back what you have heard. This is helpful because firstly the other person appreciates that you are really listening to them and secondly, it may well encourage them to say more and reveal further information on the subject.
– Avoid becoming defensive or accusatory in return. It can be natural to want to explain why we said or did certain things, but listen to the other person, how and why they feel the way they do.
Listening is a valuable skill and as we improve we find that we attune better to other communication methods. We become more sensitive to non-verbal communication and notice body language, minute changes in someone’s breathing, their facial expressions. These all provide valuable additional information and by constructively listening we develop the ability to tune in to them all.
Susan Leigh, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist