The Art of Listening; Train Yourself & Partner to Listen Better
Listening (or rather, not) is one of the biggest challenges that couples face. It's often one of the first things to go awry, and slackness around it is one of the biggest mistakes we make in marriage.
Isn't it funny that when you first start dating, you can listen to one another for hours? It's not just that you can, it's that you actually want to. Slowly the ability - and desire - to listen, dwindles until our listening ears are almost completely switched off.
This is normal.
And incredibly frustrating.
So we're here to help. Here's how to become a couple who listen, really listen to one another.
Most, if not all people, believe they are good listeners. Nobody wants to admit that they aren't, and the truth is lots of people don't realise they're not a good listener. Here is what a good listener does:
They concentrate on the person speaking. That means no phone or distraction.
They concentrate on the words being spoken. That means no wondering mind.
They don't interrupt, even if they have the most insightful comment ever.
They don't jump to solving the problem.
They never say things like "this happened to me once".
They are empathetic.
They wait until the speaker has finished and without rushing in they consider their response carefully (or if one is required at all).
Now be honest, are you a good listener?
It's OK to not be. Parents and school teach us many things, but listening is very rarely on the agenda. We are told to listen constantly throughout childhood, but this is useless and pretty stupid if we aren't shown how.
How then do we start to listen better?
Because we haven't been taught how, we're never going to become good listeners over night. Take just one from the list above and start to become aware of it in your conversations. A good one to start with is the first one (or two) - listening without distraction. When someone/your partner is speaking to you, put your phone on silent and turn it over, even better - put it away. Try to keep your mind silent whilst they're talking and you'll be well on your way to being a brilliant listener.
Not interrupting is one of the hardest things to do when listening. Sometimes we know we have the answer, the solution, the advice or wisdom that someone needs to hear but hold fire. Even if the need to defend yourself is burning white hot. Wait until they are completely finished speaking and then ask them if they would like your advice, opinion or question.
As hard as it is to admit, one of the most frustrating things when you're speaking to someone is when they bring the conversations back to themselves (they make it about them). And we all do this sometimes, again before jumping in with your own anecdote, try asking the speaker if they would like to hear how you've experienced something similar.
But what if I'm not in a place to listen?
Again, be honest. Nobody has the right to insist you listen to them. Don't be afraid to say "I'm not in a place to listen at the moment, let me finish what I'm doing then I can give you the attention you deserve". This is incredibly kind to yourself - and to them. After all, real listening isn't easy, especially when we're learning how.
My partner doesn't listen to me and isn't interested in learning how
It's very common in marriage that one person is up for working on the marriage whilst the other person has become complacent and dare I say often a little lazy.
Firstly, you need to be... Yes, honest. Be honest (and fearless) in your request to become better as a couple. And if that doesn't convince your other half then be the change. Start becoming a better listener yourself (even if you don't think you need to ;)) and watch how your partner responds to your new listening skills. At worst you have developed yourself a skill that will not only benefit your marriage but your parenting, your work and your friendships.
Listening is something we take for granted, it's something we do without thinking. We listen to podcasts, news, TV, conversations (that we may or may not be involved in), our own thoughts and the constant stream of voices that come from our children. But real listening is a skill and one which we all need to work on.
Start being honest -- to yourself and others. Pick just one thing to begin with and become aware of how you and others respond to your improved listening. Keep learning, keep growing, keep listening. The world will be a much healthier and happier place if we develop a world of really good listeners.
Ps. We've just introduced 'listening circle meetings' into our relationship and family and they have transformed how we have family meetings as well as how we deal with issues that arise. It might sound a bit 'hippy', but it's based on an ancient tribal tradition that Ben discovered on a men's retreat last year. If you'd like to hear more please get in touch.
Either way, happy listening x
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels