Just because you’re talking to your spouse (and kids) doesn’t necessarily mean that you are communicating. Active listening is also needed for true dialogue to happen.
Active listening is more than the ear capturing sound waves from the speaker’s mouth. It is to understand what is in your spouse’s heart and mind. I would even argue that listening is more vital than speaking because wrong input (listening) leads to wrong output (speaking).
So how do we start becoming active listeners?
First, change yourself first.
How we listen betrays our basic attitude towards people. Do we really value them by valuing what they have to say? If we are more engrossed in what we have to say, some change may be in order within ourselves. One can learn listening techniques in a seminar. But one has to dig deeper and have a listening spirit.
Good listeners possess a sincere interest in the speaker’s welfare. The basis of a listening ear is a listening heart. Paraphrasing the Golden Rule, listen to someone the way you want to be listened to. In listening to our spouse, we are saying “What you think and feel are important to you. You want to contribute something. You are worth listening to. Even if I don’t agree with your views, I want you to know that I am the kind of person you can freely talk to.”
Second, let the talking spouse finish.
Have you heard of lovebirds saying “We are so much in sync that we can finish each other’s sentences”? Well, over time, I am learning that is not necessarily a good thing. It may be cute during courtship, but sooner or later, the interrupted spouse may feel disrespected. Worse, I may complete my spouse’s sentence, only to be told I was dead wrong.
I covet efficiency. I hoard time. Many times I want my wife to get to the point and give me “the bottom line.” Furthermore, while she was talking, I have already formed my conclusions and solutions which I am itching to verbalize. Yet if I am to be a good listener, I must resist the impulse to cut her off in mid-sentence so I can press my own agenda.
Third, look for what is not said.
Just as communication is not limited to talking, talking is not limited to the verbal. It is one thing to say the words “I’m fine” and another to utter it with a sour face or bitter tone.
Good listeners are sensitive to non-verbal signals such as facial expression, the tone of voice and body language. So it speaks volumes when the speaker is evading eye contact, wringing her hands or tapping the floor with her foot. When there is an inconsistency between the verbal and non-verbal, it helps to pose clarifying questions such as “You seem nervous/upset/dissatisfied. Is there something else we can talk about?”
In conclusion, I found a comprehensive definition of active listening from Dr. Michael Hopp. “[It] is a person’s willingness and ability to hear and understand. At its core, active listening is a state of mind that involves paying full and careful attention to the other person, avoiding premature judgment, reflecting understanding, clarifying information, summarizing, and sharing.”
As we seek to be better listeners, we will become better spouses.
Let those who have ears, let them hear!
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first appeared under its original title, “Hey, Listen!” here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/nelson-t-dy/hey-listen/622196578182328/