Bringing out the best in others through communication means being aware of yourself, your partner, and your surroundings. Simple as the process of speaking and listening may be, we often take it for granted…forgetting the ideas, emotions, and hopes of the person who wants to connect, reacting too quickly from our fears or limited impressions, becoming distracted by noises, daydreams, or some quirk in a speaker’s style. Good communication is a discipline…a process of constantly learning and practicing listening and speaking skills.
Hear what’s being said
-Focused attention: relaxed but intent focus on the listener
…eye contact, relaxed muscles, and open stance indicating readiness to receive a message and aiding observations about the words and non-verbal information (tone of voice, body position/tension, facial expressions, gestures, pace of talk, place and time, noises or embarrassing silence)
-Open-mindedness: awareness of your own tendency for hearing what you want to hear…or to avoid hearing what you don’t want (or expect) to hear
…effort to gain a complete and accurate ‘reading’ of the message or situation by filtering out your own fear, fatigue, or failure to observe carefully
…attention to what the speaker is doing (telling a story, venting emotions, making a request, reasoning with self or others)
Think it over/take your time
-Tune in to your own feelings which confuse effective listening. Slow down. Remember: If your partner has already decided to do something you don’t like, a negative reaction can only make things worse; If he/she is sharing or asking for help, you can have more influence with an attitude of understanding.
-Switch roles: Put yourself in your partner’s position. Consider what response will show understanding of his/her greatest fears or hopes. Think about the words of support that would communicate confidence and encouragement.
-Describe rather than interpreting: note the sights, sounds, feel, smell, and taste of objects, persons, ideas, or events in the tale and the teller. A preliminary guess of the speaker’s intention for telling the story may help understanding…but it can just as easily prejudice hearing and helping (especially if it’s negative). FOCUS ON WHAT IS SAID….WAIT ON THINKING/ASKING WHY.
Act to Make a Difference
-Hold the hostility: remember that negative reactions do much more damage than logical or affirming actions (unfortunately, listeners tend to remember the rejection and hurt and take a lot of the acceptance or affection for granted). Take a time out to calm down or think things out if necessary (always with a plan to get back and hear it out).
-Love time: the quality and consistency of listening to a partner’s concerns (not necessarily agreement) demonstrates acceptance and openness. Use affirmations, repetition, and paraphrasing to clarify ideas, feelings, wants.
-Look ahead: keep current concerns in perspective, remembering that actions and reactions at the beginning of conversations set the stage for working things out or recycling conflict over and over.
Think back on the last few conversations between yourself and your partner or take note of what happens on your next conversations. How do you do with:
Now discuss the same conversation with your partner and get his/her feedback on how they viewed your listening skills.
Developed by Ben Silliman, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, Family Life Specialist