Most of us are convinced that we are reasonably good listeners. However, when asked, many partners are unable to give an coherent summary of what their partner just said without missing half of the story.
That’s because many of us are not even consciously aware that we have a tendency to plan what we are going to say next without actually listening to what is being said.
This becomes even more obvious when we fight.
Sometimes we are busy preparing a defense after someone raises a complaint, no matter how polite and mindfully they did so.
The conversation then becomes more about the listener’s point of view, and not that of the person doing the talking. Often this development will cause the initiator to get even more upset, and the conversation can easily go south.
Does that sound familiar?
What Makes a Great Listener Stand Out?
Mastering active listening is one of the most useful skill sets in life, not just in your relationship. The good thing is, you can easily learn to do it, or get better than you are now.
Here’s what great listeners do (while lousy ones don’t).
- Avoid closed-ended questions
- Avoid asking “why” and use the five magic questions instead
- Avoid using “buts”
- Avoid giving unsolicited advice
- Avoid comparisons
The good news is that you can can pick any of those skills and focus on just that, at first. It will show. Then you can start combining them.
Listening while remaining completely silent feels awkward, and might be perceived as lack of interest. On the other hand, interrupting makes a poor listener. Where is the fine line? Well, somewhere in the middle, and there are a couple of good practices that you can use.
While your partner talks, nod and encourage them by using phrases like:
“Tell me more”
“I never thought about it that way”
Any combination of the above
Encouraging makes your partner feel good (as they can see that you are actively listening). This is a straight way to a stronger connection.
Clarification not only minimizes the chances of misunderstandings, but serves one much more important purpose. It shows your attention.
See, your spouse knows you so well. They know exactly when you’re listening and when you’re not. So show them that you care by clarifying. Show them that you’re paying attention and comprehending by listening carefully.
The easiest way to do so is to ask questions like
“Let me see if I’ve got you right…..”
“What you’re saying is …”
Then repeat what you heard them say, fully trying to reflect what you believe your partner is feeling, thinking, etc.
Avoid Closed-ended Questions
Closed-ended questions are questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Asking closed-ended questions is a bad practice because these one-word answers contain too little information.
In order to understand what the other person is saying (and in case of a conflict, reach a satisfying solution), you need to know more. Simple “yes” and “no” answers will not get you there.
Stop Asking Why and Use the 5 Magic Questions Instead
Unless you want to deliberately make the other person stubborn about something, stop asking questions starting with “why.”
Instead, it’s a much better practice to reply with these five magic questions. Well, they are not really magic, they just work wonderfully well because they bring clarity. Instead of bringing opposition and entrenchment they invite insight.
Stop Using “Buts”
People who are practicing poor listening habits frequently follow what the other person had to say with a “but.”
This only shows the “gotcha” mentality. This is when the person using the “buts” is more interested in what they have to say— they are not listening to understand.
“Buts” work to delete everything that the other person just said. “Buts” set you pulling against each other. A “but” builds resentment and is, if used frequently, damaging to your relationship with anyone, not just your spouse.
Good listeners avoid using “buts.” Instead, they pitch in with their opinion in a more inclusive way that doesn’t invite resentment.
Avoid Giving Unsolicited Advice
Did you ever start to explain something to your spouse, and all of a sudden your spouse interrupts you and finishes your words and/or starts dispensing advice as if he already knew what you were going to say?
How did you feel?
Somehow, spouses always seem to have a ready-to-use solution at their fingertips, ready to be dispensed in all their wisdom, that will magically make all your dilemmas go away—without them ever having to listen to what you have to say! I am being sarcastic here, but you get the point.
In the past my wife and I had our fair share of misunderstandings. Sometimes we would clash over a totally meaningless issue. This happened for one reason only: we would be giving each other unsolicited advice when it was least needed.
That being said, there’s a super simple way to quickly determine if your advice is really needed or not. Embarrassingly, I only started using it just recently. It works and sometimes my wife and I even have a good laugh about it.
It’s a nice feeling to know that your partner really “feels” you. In other words, you are telling your partner that you can put yourself into their shoes. Many times this is exactly what your partner is looking for, because they already know the solution.
“You must be feeling …”
“You must have felt …”
“Come here.” (This helps more than you might think!)
“How can I help you?”
Be careful to not sound patronizing, though.
No one wants to hang out with a smart a**.
You surely have been in a situation when you told someone half heartedly that something good happened to you. But then, something strange happened.
They literally hijacked your thoughts and happiness by starting to talk about the great thing that happened to them three years ago. Or worse, they started talking about what happened to someone that they knew three years ago.
Don’t do that if you want to remain friends with that person, especially if that’s your spouse. Here’s why.
Of course, if the person knows that you’ve had a similar experience, then wait for them to actively ask for your opinion. Or, simply ask yourself, but do it this way.
It’s worth bearing in mind that becoming a great listener takes time, mostly practice. Some of the above won’t necessarily feel that natural at first, and it will require persistence and practice before it becomes a habit. However, if you stick with it, you’ll find it does get easier.
QUESTION: Which of the above practices of the above practices you like/hate the most? You can leave a comment by clicking here.