The Art of Listening: 3 Steps to Effective Listening

Relationships are hard.

I was out with a friend not long ago and she was sharing about a difficult conversation she was having with her boyfriend. As she was a recounting the story to me she was also narrating her inner (and unspoken) thoughts and feelings that were all taking place during the conversation with her boyfriend.

After she finished telling me the story, I paused and said, “it’s amazing to think about all the things that are going in our heads but we never actually say in conversations like these.”

I was so struck by how, although a lot is being said, so much of it isn’t what we REALLY mean, or want to say. The inner dialogue that’s running parallel to the actual conversation is what we leave out. When those internal narratives get left out, we don’t say what we mean, and consequently we don’t express what we really need. 

When I work with couples we inevitably stumble right into unspoken or unrealistic expectations that have led to painful disappointments. When the couple tries to talk through these moments, most of the time they don’t slow down long enough to really hear each other, instead they talk at each other, indicting one another for missing the “boat”.

When we think of effective communication and how to navigate expectations in relationships, we must start with our ability to LISTEN.

Listening is an art, and it starts with listening to ourselves. Tuning in to our self talk–those tapes that are playing in our minds all the time. What do we think, feel, and believe, and how is that informing our ability to really tune in to someone else?

If we haven’t really listened to ourselves, aka, we’re not aware of our own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, narratives etc, it’s going to be exponentially more difficult to know how to effectively listen to someone else.

So, how do we listen better? Not just to each other but to ourselves?

      1.  Slow Down

It’s impossible to tune in to our internal narratives and feelings if we are going a thousand miles an hour. One of my supervisors used to always say, (and I’m sure she still does), to practice the pause. When you’re in a heated conversation, or walking into a hard conversation, practice pausing and slowing down so that you can tune into yourself.

      2. Tune In

Once you’ve slowed down you’re able to tune in to what you are actually thinking, feeling, and believing about yourself, the situation, and the other person. Tuning in gives you the chance to challenge the narratives that are spilling out of unspoken or unrealistic expectations.

      3. Reflect What You’ve Heard (or think you’ve     heard)

When you’re having a hard conversation it’s so important to slow down the conversation (and your assumptions) by reflecting back to the person what you think they just said.

For example: After the person has just made a statement, you can say: “What I think I just heard you say is ___________, did I get that right?”

This is a GAME CHANGER. Both parties now have the opportunity not just to feel heard, but also to ensure that what they are HEARING is an accurate reflection of what is being SAID. This can eliminate assumption and false narratives, which drive disconnection in our relationships.

If we are slowing down, tuning in, and reflecting back to one another what we’ve heard, we are able to say what we really mean, and consequently able to more address what we really need. Can you think of any relationships and conversations where you can try this out?

One Response

  1. Very Cool Barb, I like the’Game Changer,’ part. It’s kind of like a second chance afforded. There’s value in that, the one (possibly slighted) senses value because they get to hear their version through the other one speaking, it can calm things down to where reactions are gone and they’re actually communicating.
    Sincerely ,
    Kevin Vandiver

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