In my blog about therapy that I posted a few months ago, I mentioned that I went to pre-marital counseling and learned many great ways to keep a happy, healthy relationship. We also went to a financial literacy class, which was one-part group couples counseling and one-part learning how to save and spend wisely. One of the most helpful things that my fiance’ and I learned was how to be an empathetic listener, and it’s genuinely helped in our relationship and my relationships with my friends and family as well. In an effort to promote healthier conversations with one another, I would love to share a bit of what I learned. Some of these practices are based on research done by Bernard Guerney, a marriage and couples therapist with over 30 years of experience.
1. Give your undivided attention to the person who is speaking. This can mean making sure that your phone is put away with the volume turned down so that you’re not distracted by any notifications. This can also mean turning towards the person and facing them so that they can see that you are listening attentively. It’s important to think about the speaker and what they would want from you to show that you care about what they’re saying.
2. Be mindful of facial expressions, posture, and tone of voice. If the speaker is saying something that you don’t agree with, don’t frown or make a face because it might make your partner feel disrespected. Don’t look annoyed at what they’re saying because it might make them regret speaking with you in the first place. Definitely don’t yell or raise your voice because that always makes the situation worse. Be calm, cool, and collected in order to have an effective conversation.
3. Summarize and restate the speaker’s most important thoughts or feelings, then ask, “Did I get everything?” After the speaker finishes speaking, use that time to ask any clarification questions that you wanted to ask. Don’t interrupt the speaker to ask questions or make comments. Once you ask your clarification questions and think you understand what the speaker is saying, summarize what they said. You can say, “From what I’m hearing, you think…” or something along those lines. Then finish it with, “Did I get everything?” This will allow the speaker to recognize that you heard what they said and understand their thoughts and feelings. If it turns out that you’ve missed a major point that they mentioned, they should politely remind you of an important point that you missed, and you can move on to the next part of the conversation.
4. Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Try to see the situation from their point of view in order to gain a better understanding of what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling. If you’ve tried to do this and still don’t understand where they’re coming from, let the speaker know in a calm and polite manner. You can say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you’re feeling. Do you mind explaining it in a little more detail?”
5. Don’t judge the speaker. If someone is telling you how they feel about something, that means that they trust you enough to be open and honest with you. Be sure not to betray that trust by being judgmental.
6. Remember that you will have your time to speak too. I can’t say it enough — DO NOT INTERRUPT. Don’t ask questions or express your own point of view while the speaker is talking. When you summarize the main points of the speaker and ask clarifying questions, you eliminate the risk of doing what most people hate — listening just to make a rebuttal. You’re actually listening empathetically to understand what the speaker is saying. Any reply that you offer should not be a rebuttal or a refutation.
It may feel a little awkward at first to use these methods because you’re not used to it, but allow it to become a habit, and you’ll begin to use it in your everyday life. You may be in an argument with your spouse, your brother, or your mom, and you may even forget to put these tips into practice until everyone’s already screaming and feeling upset. If that’s the case, take a pause. Announce that you’re going to walk away for a few minutes and take a breather so that you both can return to the conversation in a different state of mind. When you come back, try using these tips. The argument will quickly turn into a conversation, and you’ll be able to actually listen to each other. I hope these prove to be useful to you all because they’ve definitely been very helpful for me!
This is part one in my two-part series. In this blog, I talked about how to be an empathetic listener. In my next blog, I’ll be talking about how to effectively express your feelings. Thanks for reading!
“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” — Simon Sinek