Did you say something? The Art of Listening well.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”

– Bryant H. McGill.

Yet, one of the biggest complaints between couples and/or families when they come in for therapy is not feeling listened to by their spouse or family members.

John Gottman, PhD, who has done amazing work in the area of marital research,  suggests that there are two key predictors of successful relationships.  One of these predictors is the concept of “bids for attention.”

A bid for attention as defined by Gottman is any attempt from one partner to another for affirmation, affection or any other positive connection. Bids can be simple, a smile or a hug or more complex such as making a request of your partner or asking for help.

Couples who consistently answer each other’s bids for attention and do so in a positive and healthy manner, tend to have healthier and more vibrant relationships. This goes for parenting relationships and even friendships. 

Knowing how to be an “active listener” is a crucial component of successfully answering bids for attention. Yet, most of us do a fair to poor job of listening. We may hear, but do not listen…and there is a difference between hearing and listening.

So, what is active listening and how does one do it? Active Listening is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the practice of engaging closely with what a speaker is saying and indicating understanding, typically by asking relevant questions, using gestures, and summarizing.”

What are some ways you can more actively listen to your significant other? The first part is to receive the message:

  • Check your body language: Is my posture open? Am I making eye contact?
  • Prepare to listen: Turn off distractions, put down your phone, get in the right frame of mind. Plan on taking the time needed.
  • Demonstrate you are listening: Nod your head, maintain eye contact, smile if appropriate.

The second part is the actual act of active listening:

  • Reflect back to the person what you are hearing: “What I heard you say was…”, “If I understand you correctly…”
  • Try Mirroring: Mirroring is when you mimic certain aspects of the person you are trying to communicate with. For example, you match their tone and volume of their voice, use similar gestures, repeat words or phrases they use, etc.
  • Be open-minded and hear the other person out: This is not the time to be formulating your argument or response.
  • Don’t interrupt: Really, it’s just rude.
  • Ask questions relevant to the discussion. Avoid off-topic questions, i.e., don’t ask what’s for dinner in the middle of a discussion on your spouse’s stressful day at work.

I’m not guaranteeing immediate success and/or decreased conflict in your relationships should you start practicing active listening, but I do guarantee better growth in your communication skills and improved mutual respect with those who are important to you….and that’s always a great place to start.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”. ― Ernest Hemingway.

As always, we at Psychological Services (832-394-1440) are here to support you and your relationships. Reach out