I would not define myself as a good listener. It wasn’t something that came naturally to me. When my husband and I had been married for about 5 years, I realized that many times I interrupted him while he was talking because I was so eager to tell him my thoughts about the topic. I knew I needed to change. At Focus Life we strive for improvements and personal growth. Most people would say they could improve their listening skills. Here are a few practical tips from the Focus Life Institute on improving your listening skills in relationships:
TIP 1: Be sure to offer your full attention in a discussion
Many times, when I have a conversation with someone, I find myself distracted from listening. Either I’m doing something on my phone, or my children are talking (ahem, arguing) in the background when an interaction begins. Other times, it can be music or a video playing that pulls away my attention. More times than I can count, I have completely ignored my husband or children talking to me because I was wrapped up in the book I was reading. In the past several years, I’ve learned to give my full attention. I set the book down, turn the phone off, mute the video or suggest we go to a different room where it’s quieter so I can better focus on the person speaking. Dr. James Dobson, author of, Bringing Up Boys, encourages parents to go to their children while they are playing and bring them out of it before starting a discussion. He specifically suggests to the parents to put a hand on their child’s arm and have them make eye contact before talking with them. This is what I’m learning to do internally with myself. I pull my thoughts away from the distraction and FOCUS on the person speaking. My relationships have improved greatly since I’ve become better at this. Some of these distractions had become a habit during conversations (because I like to multi-task), and I had to break them. My full attention enables me to fully grasp what they are saying and helps me to read between the lines to pick up on the emotions behind the words.
TIP 2: Put yourself in their shoes
We’ve heard this since we were kids, right? I used to listen with a one-sided perspective: mine. I didn’t always think about the scenario from the speaker’s position. This is where understanding the behavior of others has greatly opened my eyes to listening beyond the limitations of only my way of thinking. I was a guinea pig for many of these products we sell from Focus Life Institute because they have been in development for over 25 years! As I started to learn about the motivations of others with these tools, I could better understand why they approached a topic the way they did. For example, one of my relatives is very detail-oriented, and enjoys examining all the angles of a discussion. Sometimes, they even ask questions that could come off as offensive or on the opposite side of how I feel about the subject. During these discussions, I was able to understand where they were coming from: an inquisitive mind that wants to know all the facts before establishing an opinion. There have been countless times when I could have gotten upset, but because I knew the motivation behind the questions based on this person’s behavioral style, we have had peaceful and insightful conversations. At Focus Life Institute, we call this blending our behavioral style. When we do this, relationships flourish. We finally hear one another and are able to “share their shoes” so to speak to better understand their frame of mind.
TIP 3: Acknowledge the speaker’s feelings
I’m quick to want to solve a problem. I want to ask questions to get to the bottom line and find a solution for someone. I really like to help them “feel better” when someone is upset begins sharing. But, over the years, I’ve learned that this is not profitable to do right away. It’s better to first acknowledge how the other person feels in a simple, understanding statement. If one of my children had a rough day and they are terribly upset because they had an argument with their friend, my initial response as a listener really matters to where this discussion can go. For example:
Child: Tristan made me so mad today. He thinks that because he is on the football team, he can tell me what to do!
Parent (wrong response): Why? What happened! Can’t you just get along with people?!
Parent (better response): Okay, I hear that you’re angry. [Silence, let them keep talking.]
In How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, the authors give 4 ways that a parent can help children to deal with their feelings. I think they are applicable to most relationships beyond parent and child.
- You can listen quietly and be attentive.
- You can acknowledge their feelings with a word. “Oh…Mmm…I see….”
- You can give the feeling a name: “That sounds frustrating!”
- You can give the child his wishes in fantasy. “I wish I could make the banana ripe for you right now!”
Once you utilize these tools as a listener, the doorway usually opens wide for deeper discussions for talking through solutions and giving advice. If not, then you may have solved some of their problems just by listening and giving them an outlet for their feelings.
TIP 4: Get in sync
It’s hard for many people of different behavioral motivations to “get in sync.” They just never see eye to eye. It takes effort on both sides to make steps toward improving the relationship, especially when the past has been a difficult road between them. If you are struggling to get in sync with others, I highly recommend you check out How To Acquire Skills for Life, an all inclusive online course that teaches so much more beyond the art of listening to truly be successful in your relationships. This will help improve your personal and professional connections with others. The productivity of those relationships will increase immensely. When we take the steps to get in sync with others, we really become unstoppable in our personal growth and we more readily change!
Check out How to Acquire Skills for Life on our website: https://focuslifeinstitute.com/how-to-acquire-skills-for-life/and contact us for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
~ Theresa Burnworth, Focus Life Institute Curriculum Director