How To Become A Better Listener In 3 Easy Steps
Listen, the dirty truth is that none of us is as skilled a listener as we want to be. With infinite distraction available to us, dramatically shortened attention spans, and the extreme ability to multi-task... it's surprising we ever make eye contact with our partners at all! (But don't tell your partner that, we've got a hunch they won't find it very amusing.)
And yet as unlikely and challenging as good listening is, research shows us it's really the key to a happy relationship. Partners who don't feel "heard" report low levels of satisfaction in their relationship, but those who enjoy good communication and feel supported report dramatically higher levels of relationship health and happiness.
Before we jump ahead into how to improve your listening skillz, let's acknowledge the most common pitfalls of sh*tty listening. Why? Because being aware of them is the best way to avoid them!
The most common listening barriers:
- Boredom: Back to those short attention spans, if we're not interested in the subject matter, there's a high likelihood we're not going to be ace listeners.
- Personal issues: It's hard to hear anyone speak (even your partner) if you've got a private narrative going in your head.
- Environmental distractions: Music, the game on TV, the loud table next to you at brunch, a cute baby trying to feed themselves, a weird pigeon circling a trash can, there are literally thousands of things in the world that at any one moment, could pull your attention away from being a good listener.
- Perception: If you have a bias about either the speaker or the subject matter of the conversation, you will have a hard time hearing what they say objectively. For example: if your partner started talking about the laundry (a very sore subject between you two) you'd probably be busy building an iron-clad defense while they're talking as opposed to really trying to listen.
- Red-flag words: Similarly to perception, there are some things that will prevent us from absorbing what anyone is saying to us... and in relationships especially, those are the "red-flag words." Words that your partner knows are really like tiny bombs, that, when dropped, wreak havoc on you. For example: "Now don't get hysterical about what I'm about to say..." (Case in point.)
Okay, enough about the bad stuff. Although hopefully, shining a spotlight on what you should look out for will help you to identify (and side-step) those obstacles when they arise.
Here is how to address those barriers and become a better listener:
Step 1: Apply The Golden Rule
The best, most immediate, most effective way to become an awesome listener is to give the other person the consideration and attention that you would want in return. If you feel unheard or unimportant when the person you're talking to looks at their phone, doesn't make eye contact, or interrupts frequently - just remember that when you start to listen to your partner.
Step 2: Eliminate Distraction
This step obviously helps you limit external stimuli, which we know from above is a common listening barrier - but it is also important for another reason. If you enter a room and say "Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?" and they immediately turn off the TV, close their magazine or book, and adjust their sitting position so they're facing you - you feel the immediate effects of good listening: attention.
Step 3: Work On Focus
As we have learned, "boredom" is a common pitfall of listeners everywhere, and you and your partner are no different. We're not always going to have the exact same interests and opinions, so it is only natural that there will be times they will talk to you about a subject you have exactly zero interest in. Too bad! They're probably not too jazzed on your sci-fi addiction or admiration for fine art - but guess what, they become focused when you start talking... it's only fair to give them the same respect.
Guess what? We're proud of you. Not because you're a so-called "perfect listener" (no one is) but because you're trying to improve how well you listen. That's awesome and deserves some recognition. Listening may not seem like an essential skill but it makes your partner feel heard, understood, important, and valued - and that's as essential as it gets.