It’s safe to say that most of us are interested in the quality of our lives. But what we may not remember are the following two ideas:

  1. The quality of our lives depends largely on the quality of our relationships.
  2. To a large extent, the quality of our relationships depend on the quality of our communication.

I’ve stated my belief on communication before – in a committed relationship, you can not not communicate. The real issue is — how do you handle the messages sent between you? Especially the ones involving messages you don’t like, or ones with which you disagree.

While I still fully believe this, for the purposes of this post, “communication” is referring to the actual practices of speaking and listening.  It’s through speaking and listening that you can dramatically improve the quality of your relationships, and your life.

See the payoffs in listening well

If you desire a happier life and marriage, then listening well is one of the best ways to get what you want. Through listening, you learn. It will help you discover options and solve a wide variety of problems.

All you have to do is listen.

Remember – communication at best is difficult

The English language is filled with words that are easily misinterpreted and muddled. All you have to do is place the emphasis on a different word in a sentence, and you change its meaning. Not to mention the various definitions of some words – like chair (something you sit on, the leader of a board of directors, or even the metal block that supports and holds railroad tracks).

While being a clear speaker in your conversations will help, being a better listener will help even more.

Marital conversations, especially when heated or tense, often disintegrate into parallel monologues. The conversation reaches a point where neither person is listening to the other, yet each person continues trying to get their point across.

Enter the world of listening.

It’s easy to cross the line from listening to speaking. I know you’ve been there; a friend begins telling you how their vacation went and you interrupt, “That sounds great, just like the time our family went to the beach and …” The conversation just shifted away from them and back to you. Your story became more important than theirs.

Here’s a few ideas to help you become a better listener.

Listen to yourself listen

Listening to yourself requires paying close attention. Instead of mentally preparing a response or the message you are going to send, practice fully receiving the message already heading towards you.

Take note of your internal distractions. You know, the times you feel rushed or when the other person is turning a simple story into an epic drama and you’re losing interest. Or perhaps you’re involved in one conversation at the coffee shop but actually listening to the conversation taking place in the booth behind you.

By listening to yourself listen, you can find tactful ways to disengage yourself from the conversation when you are distracted and not fully present and listening. Honesty is often the best policy. Say something like, “Listen Mary, that sounds like a fascinating story, but right now I’m a bit distracted. I’m concerned about my parent’s health and I’d like to call and find out how they’re doing. I’d like to hear this story when I can really listen, so can we talk a little later in the day?”

When truly listening, it pays to either be genuine or be gone.

Photo by Sharon Mollerus

Use silence and postpone your response

The typical conversation is like a tennis match. One person serves, the other returns. There’s very little time wasted in the conversation.  Use silence and postpone your response, which will slow down the conversation. It allows you to fully hear the other person and then appropriately respond. It helps ensure that both of you are more present and heard.

In conversations that are emotional and tense, silence is a tremendous gift. It allows all involved time to think, reflect, and breathe.

Remember that understanding is not agreeing

Listening means receiving an accurate version of the message being sent. Listening also means you gain an insight into the other person’s point of view. Once you understand the message the other person sends, you are then free to respond in any way you choose.  And one possible response is to disagree.

Understanding and agreeing are two different things.

As a better listener, you can fully hear other ideas and opinions and then respond appropriately and calmly. As a general rule – until people feel understood, they are less likely to be willing to invest much energy in trying to understand you. And when you don’t feel understood, you’re less likely to invest in trying to understand someone else.

Try it out. Take some time in your next conversations and practice being a better listener. Then let us know how it goes.

What can you add to this idea of becoming a better listener? I’m all ears.

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