Listening – are you any good at it? Does it even matter?
Yes! Because communication is the key to having a successful relationship! And to really communicate with someone you need to be able to understand and comprehend what the other person is saying – this means listening.
Communication is not just asking questions, it’s listening to the answers. I know plenty of singles who have wasted way too much of their lives with someone who didn’t want the same things or even the type of relationship that they did. All because they didn’t take the time to listen to what the other person told them.
It’s all too common to think you have had the conversation and are on the same page, yet you didn’t listen to what they were saying.
It is easy to do because you can hear what you want to hear rather than what is really being said.
Let me tell you a client, Melanie’s* story to show you what I mean.
Melanie met Aidan and was excited as they had so much in common, as well as having fun every time they spent time together. They hung out for a few months but Mel didn’t get to see Aidan as much as she wanted to. So, she had a chat to him about where the relationship was going. Mel told him how she was feeling and what she wanted for their future. She spent a lot of time talking and Mark listened patiently and simply said yes and that he was happy with how things were going and liked it that way.
Melanie felt like Mark had agreed with her but she wasn’t listening to what he was telling her. He didn’t say he wanted a relationship, in fact, he said he was happy with how things were and the amount of time they were spending together!
Melanie heard what she wanted to hear and didn’t ask Mark open-ended questions to see if they were on the same page. As a result, Melanie wasted a year with a guy who was never going to give her the type of relationship that she wanted.
I see this happen with things like finding out if you both want to have children or have the same type of lifestyle. It might also be helpful to read, Why You Need to be Vulnerable and Define Your Relationship!
So, if you have gone on a few dates or more how do you have the conversations that you need to?
How do you have a conversation to find out if someone is the right person for you? If you want to get to know someone you need to be able to listen to what they are saying to you. Have you heard the saying, The Art of Listening? It is a saying because there really is an art and a skill to it. The good news is that it is an art and skill that can be learnt.
It is about listening to understand what the other person is saying without judging them or being defensive. Listening is an action you need to commit to.
You need to be able to communicate at every stage of any relationship, from the moment that you first meet each other.
Let’s Look at Listening and How to Do It!
1.Get Rid of Distractions
Get rid of any distractions like your phone, computer or anything else. Turn them off or put them on silent. Be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying. Be curious!
2. Body Language
Make eye contact, have open body language (no crossed arms, etc), even = lean forward to show you are interested in what they are saying.
3. Don’t Interrupt When Listening
This one can be hard to do! But no matter how hard it is, listen to the other person without interrupting them. In fact, even give 30 seconds gap after they have finished to give them space to say what they need to.
4. Be in the Moment – Be Present
A conversation is a two-way street and not a monologue! When you are listening, you are not simply pressing pause on what you want to say. To be present when you are listening means that while the other person is talking you are not thinking about what you will say when they finish speaking or coming up with a defence or. counter-argument. When you listen in the moment you don’t make assumptions about what the other person is going to say next. You simply need to LISTEN!
If you don’t understand what the other person is saying, ask them what they mean. Then listen to what they say. Use open-ended questions like ‘can you tell me more about that?’ or ‘can you explain what you mean by?’ (more examples below). Open-ended questions allow the other person to tell you what they think without you putting words into their mouths or making assumptions. The other thing about open-ended questions is they open the heart. It is important to remember it’s a conversation, not an interrogation.
6. Be in Tune When Listening
Tune in to what the other person is feeling. As a listener, it is important not to minimise what the other person is feeling. Which can easily happen if you dismiss their feelings or try to ‘fix’ things for them. Listening is not about cheering the other person up or attempting to make them feel better. You are listening to understand! You know to understand your similarities and your differences. This creates more empathy and connection between you.
7. Listening is a No Judgement Zone
Your aim when you are listening is to show understanding, empathy and respect to the other person. You cannot do that if you are judgemental or critical. For someone to be open or to open up to you there needs to be openness and vulnerability. To be able to do that, the other person needs to feel safe and free to tell you what they think and feel without the fear of being judged. When you listen, it allows you to see and understand who the other person is.
8. Don’t Offer Advice
Don’t try to solve the problem for the other person or offer advice unless they ask you to for it.
Clarify that you have understood what they are saying to you. Mirror back their words and ask them if you have missed anything. Then empathise with them, which is different to agreeing with them. It would be, “I understand how that would feel”.
To clarify you could ask –
- Tell me have I got this right, you are saying……
- I get it, you’re feeling…….
10. Listening is Being there
Listening is the way you can be there for someone else. You are letting the other person know that you have heard them! Everyone wants to be heard! It is a way of holding space and acceptance for the other person.
Let’s Look at Tools for Listening
#1 Open-ended Questions to Understand Someone
The questions you ask matter. Here is a list of open-ended questions that will allow you to understand someone.
- Can you explain what you meant?
- Can you clarify more about what you were saying?
- Ask – What are you feeling?
- Go deeper – What else are you feeling?
- What do you need?
- Try – What are your choices?
- How can I help?
- Can I ask what do you need?
- In the larger scheme of things, what do you wish for?
- Do you know what feelings you are afraid to even think about?
- Do you have mixed feelings and what are they?
- If you think about your values, what do they tell you about this?
- Think of someone you look up to. What would they do and how would they see this situation?
- Do these feelings have any spiritual, moral, ethical or religious meaning for you?
- How do you wish things could be resolved now or in the future?
- I enjoy finding out about you, what are your goals?
Let’s look at Mel’s situation to see how she could have had the conversation with Aidan.
‘Aidan, I am enjoying spending time with you and have never laughed as much! I would like to spend more time with you and want to know what you are looking for in a relationship?’ Then she needed to listen to his answer and ask more about what he meant by being happy with how things are so she could understand what he meant rather than what she wanted him to mean.
Let’s look at another example if you wanted to ask the other person about having children. If you have gone on a couple of dates and you ask the other person what their goals are for the future and if they want children because this is a must-have for you. They could say no and rather than leave it there, be curious and find how more by clarifying that choice. You can do that by asking them, “Can you tell me the reasons behind your choice?” Then follow up with “Do you feel you may change your mind?”
You will have a clear answer and then you can make your decision. If it is a must-have for you, it will clearly show you that you aren’t compatible as you don’t want the same things. This will save you time and heartache. You might also find out other information that makes your decision easier like they have a negative view of life.
#2 Statement to Help the Other Person Open up
This allows the other person the space to open up to you and be vulnerable.
- I want to know how you are feeling.
- Talk to me, I am listening.
- Nothing is more important to me at the moment than listening to you.
- We have plenty of time to talk, take all the time you need.
- Tell me what you need right now.
- Help me understand what you are feeling a little better.
- Tell me more.
- Help me understand this situation from your point of view.
- Tell me more about how you are seeing this situation.
#3 Express tolerance, empathy and understanding
This is showing empathy and understanding and allows the person to open up more.
- You’re making sense
- I understand how you feel
- That must have been tough for you
- I can feel your pain
- I’ve got your back
- That must have hurt you
- I agree with you
- I support you
- That must have been scary
- That would have hurt my feelings too
- That would have been frustrating
- No wonder you felt like that
- That would make me feel anxious
I hope you have found these tips useful because I know listening can be tricky and doesn’t come easily. The good news is that with some practice, you can learn how to listen to others and it is the only true way to be intimate with someone else. If you are in a relationship, here are 5 Questions to Ask Each other to keep your relationship strong.