Relationships become stronger through good communication. When we feel heard and understood, and when we can understand others, we feel safe, comforted and connected. In contrast, we feel disconnected when communication with our loved ones breaks down. A disconnected relationship can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, loneliness, depression and anger.
Being able to listen right is one of the most important ingredients in effective communication that helps to strengthen our relationships. You may hear every word spoken by another person, but you may not understand what they are trying to say. What are some ways that we can practice effective listening and create better bonds with others? Here are some tips:
- Seek to understand, rather than to respond: If you don’t listen to understand what the other person is saying and seek to know what they mean, you can’t know what the right response is and can wind up in a conflict. Also, ask questions to clarify when you are listening to someone. You might understand in part, or in full, or not at all, but you can’t be certain unless you ask questions.
- Take turns speaking and listening: Two people can’t listen and be heard at the same time. You have to either listen first, or the other person has to. There will always be time for both parties to be heard.
- Pay attention.Listening, however, is not just waiting for your turn to speak. You must be actively involved in the process and notice not just what someone is saying but also their non-verbal cues. Mirror their emotions. Smile when they are smiling, nod to agree and shake your head in sympathy when appropriate. Be truly involved.
- Be less defensive:If you’re listening and not fully understanding, or hearing someone and taking what they say personally, you’re going to get defensive. And when we get defensive, we lose the ability to hear accurately. We end up feeling angry because our mindset is biased to start off with. If you notice that you’re getting defensive, try to self-soothe by taking deep breaths and loosening your body. Listen objectively to what the other party is saying. And remember that what someone else has to say is more about them and less about you.
- Don’t interrupt: Let the person you are speaking with complete their thought before offering your opinions or reflections. It can be quite annoying and frustrating when you are trying to tell a story but get interrupted so the other party can tell a similar story. Practice holding your questions and comments until the speaker is finished, or at least pauses to take a breath.
- Reflect back what you heard:You may not like what you hear, but don’t defend or attack straight away. If you hear something that doesn’t sit well with you, simply reflect back what you heard: “Are you saying that all coffee drinkers are addicted to caffeine?”
Once you learn to listen, whether that’s at home with your family or at work with your colleagues, you’ll notice how much easier it is to communicate effectively. Listening effectively is a skill and as with all other skills, it requires practice. If you consciously make an effort to listen right, those around you will start noticing and hopefully you will be able to strengthen the relationships in your life.