Vienna Pharoan is a relationship guru, I am certain. If you don’t know of her, look up mindfulmft and you will find some truly brilliant nuggets that will genuinely get you thinking about your relationship to self and your partner. She sent out a newsletter a week or so ago, all about how to be a better listener. While I was quite familiar with much of what she was saying, 3 of her points really hit home for me. I am copying her points below, and then going to add why I feel they are so important underneath.
- Explore the story you have about the person who’s speaking to you. Do you carry judgments? Is your system preparing you for something before that person opens up and speaks? Are there expectations that you think they have of you as a listener that you don’t agree with?
I think we all want to believe we aren’t judgmental but the reality is we all make judgments, including about our partner. Some of these will be done defensively, out of a need to protect ourselves from our partner’s potential complaints/criticisms. Others can be the result of our past experiences and how we expect our partners to treat us in good times and in conflict. In these moments, our projections become our story which is really harmful to our relationships because we stop seeing and hearing our partner for who they are, and instead see them only for the story we have created about who they are. Instead try to take a deep breath and remind yourself that ultimately you want the same things as your partner: a happy, solid connection.
- Listen to understand, not respond. This is a big one. As we’re “listening” our internal system often gets activated and all of sudden we’re off in the land of “oh that’s not true, oh I can show you how you got that wrong, no I didn’t do that, oh here’s why I did that, oh I think you should do it this way instead….”. You get the point. We’re already responding and the other person is still talking. How do you think that works for us in the listening department?! Notice where your mind goes while you’re listening and start working on redirecting yourself back to the conversation. This will take practice.
This is one of the more important things to remind yourself of when you know you’re about to have an important conversation. I think we need to start by practicing this when we initiate dialogue, and then once we have honed the skill there, we try to practice it when our partner is the initiator. I know for myself this can be really hard. Naturally we feel like what we have to say is important, or we want to prove why our partner’s perspective is flawed. The challenge is when that becomes our main approach to listening, we actually don’t hear our partner’s at all. Instead we hear ourselves, and we get lost in focusing on what is right vs. wrong instead of trying to understand how our partner is feeling.
- Leave others with the feeling that they’re worth being listened to. Reflect on this and ask yourself after conversations whether you think they’d walk away with that feeling or not. Adjust accordingly.
I feel like this is the area where hopefully, in reflection, we can learn to check ourselves. I genuinely believe that in couples where the relationship really is a priority and meant to continue forward, we care about how our partner is feeling. In this situation, it would be appropriate to feel guilty if we put winning an argument or conversation over the wellbeing of our partner. Learning to reflect on how we want our partner to feel when we are having important conversations with them will help guide how you listen in the future
Listening is a skill, and, as with any skill, it takes practice to actually be good at it. It is also a skill that can drastically improve your relationship if you keep practicing. These are three important pieces I want to consider when trying to hone my listening skills. Do you have any favorite listening skills you want to share?