How often do you argue with your partner and you feel misunderstood? How many times do you respond with anger, defending yourself or becoming cross when she or he doesn’t get you? Close connection comes through really seeing our partner, understanding who he or she is. Essential for that are active listening and empathy.
What is Active Listening?
“Seek first to understand, and then be understood” (Stephen R Covey)
• We are used to listen to ourselves in response to what the other person is saying. That means we ‘listen’ to our reactions of what the other has said, judging, commenting it in our mind and formulating a response, waiting only for our turn to speak
• We jump in, give opinions and possible solutions, before the other person has really finished
Active listening, however, is when we stop focusing on our own agenda and thoughts and focus fully on our partner’s words, intonation, body language and facial expression.
When we truly want to understand we need to listen actively, that means:
• Give our full attention, this can be shown by moving our body towards the speaker, nodding our mirroring their body language
• We can repeat and summarise key words and phrases. Be careful to use their words, so that you don’t change the meaning of what they said.
You show that you are really listening when you do that and it reaffirms the speaker, that you understood.
• Reflect back the emotion that you hear them express. Like: ‘You sound very sad…’ However, if in doubt, leave the emotion. You don’t want to make the speaker believe he/she is sad, for example, if they are not.
• By paraphrasing what the other has said you encourage him/her to carry on and when you feel you have come to a point in the conversation where it would be helpful for you to interpret what has been said, this can be useful for the speaker, as it clarifies his/her thinking.
The aim of active listening is that you are able to truly understand and therefore feel yourself into his/her position and are able to respond with empathy and compassion.
To practice active listening, arrange a special evening, order or cook some special food and have a candlelight dinner or anything that you know your partner will find romantic or will appreciate your efforts for.
Have a “listening” evening. Each person has time to talk without being interrupted for five, ten (you decide what feels best) minutes. The other listens. Make sure you really listen and don’t let your thoughts drift off (if they do, make sure you come back to listening actively). Take what you hear as feelings and thoughts of your partner, rather than “the truth”. This means you won’t get into justification mode (“she always accuses me of this”, “I never said that…”). Active listening means you look each other in the eyes, you can nod, you might want to clarify points (but not question what the other has said!).
Start your sentences with “I”, if that helps you talk about yourself, rather than accuse your partner of something.
Get closer. Listen to your partner. Become (re)connected. Enjoy!
(Based on Stephen R. Covey’s work* and other researchers, I have summarised in this post how their work can support your communication with your child(ren) and partner.
*Steven R. Covey: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster Ltd., 2004
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