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University of Wyoming Extension

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

LIFE - Individual Growth and Development

Communication Basics: Love Listens

Listening is at the heart of good communication. A good listener is more valuable than a great lover. Listening often looks like "doing nothing," but ignoring distractions around you and removing your own thoughts and feelings really takes effort.

What Listening Does for Relationships

Listening is the key to showing and speaking love to another person

While it appears to be doing—or saying—nothing, listening sends a powerful message of interest, respect, and caring about another person.

Some ways to send a positive message about the relationship include:

  • Prioritize time with the persons you care about
  • Listen with focused attention (don’t stare, but pay close attention)
  • Offer positive feedback (shake your head or say ‘uh-huh’; smile)
  • Listen without interrupting or judging/evaluating (wait your turn)

Listening allows you to clarify tune in to and check out information (your partner’s real ideas, actions, expressions, and desires, rather than just your impression of them).

What to listen for:

What is said--ideas, impressions, beliefs, feelings, wants—rather than what you think, fear, or want. This input can be used to clarify understanding and create a solid foundation for problem solving.

What is not said—unexpressed concerns or implied demands of the speaker—which are too easily ignored or imposed on the message. This input allows listeners to be supportive rather than reactive, keeping issues in perspective.

How things are said—voice tone, feelings emphasis, body language, etc.--all indicate openness or anxiety, providing clues for responding. 

Building Listening Skills

Active Listening—involving attention, summarizing, confirming, and sharing as speaker—makes listening and speaking a two-way process. Here’s how it works:

Credible listening: Let your body and facial expressions communicate that that you are open and interested (face speaker with an open and relaxed posture, maintain eye contact, affirm with a smile or nod)

Responsive listening: Agree to stop every couple of minutes to take a breather and allow the listener to summarize the ideas and emotions he/she has just heard. Repeating exactly or agreeing with what’s said is not as important as accurately paraphrasing the speaker’s thoughts and feelings. Describe what was said rather than interpreting what was meant or judging whether it was right or wrong: Understand and gain trust first; then negotiate the meaning! For example:

"You do not see me clean up the house, do laundry, or cook. At the same time, I often ask you to do these things or complain when they’re not done. This makes you feel unfairly treated and you become angry."

In this paraphrase, the listener describes events (evidence) and feelings without agreeing or disagreeing, or insisting that they are right or wrong.

Allow the speaker to confirm these impressions—"Yes, that’s that I said (or meant)." Then clarify what was meant.

Constructive listening. Use the process of speaking, paraphrasing, and confirming to clarify issues and feelings. For best results, identify priority issues and deal with them one-by-one. Put aside less important or conflict issues to be handled later.

Mutual listening: Take turns as listener or speaker, to give each a chance to contribute. Remember, you may end up agreeing, disagreeing, or agreeing-to-disagree. Regardless of which outcome you reach, celebrate your success with the process of listening and being heard.

Exercises

Make a list of good listeners you have known. Try to describe specifically what they did or said that made you feel safe to say what you thought or felt—regardless of whether he/she agreed or not. Name one or specific two things that the person did that you’d like to do better. Pick an issue and practice doing those things with a partner.

Developed by Ben Silliman, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, Family Life Specialist

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