In our fast paced, soundbite society it’s easy to appear like we’re listening when we’re actually not! It’s a terrible thing to have someone right in front of you and pretend to listen. But all of us do it! Just about everyone we meet is doing this. We are too! If we’re honest, we’re thinking about a million other things when someone is talking to us. We think about everything from what’s for supper to what are we going to say next. Forming our reply isn’t listening – just in case you didn’t know. So how do we get better at listening?
In marriage one of the most terrible breakdowns that happens is in communication. When we don’t communicate what we really want or when we don’t listen when someone is communicating with us a breakdown begins. We start to make assumptions. We think we know what’s going on when we really have no clue. We need to get better at listening. But how?
When I was in seminary I noticed this problem in myself and I ended up going through a class on active listening. The idea of active listening is pretty simple. You pay attention to someone when they’re talking to you, but you add one more step. You participate in the conversation by asking questions and summarizing what you’ve heard.
All too often the things we hear aren’t exactly what someone else is saying. In marriage a lot of the conflicts I have seen, and even the ones I’ve experienced, are because one of us doesn’t exactly understand what’s being said. Therefore we’re making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. This is where active listening comes in really handy!
Active listening is about creating pause points in a conversation to make sure you’re still on the right track. Summarizing what you’re hearing is pretty critical. You can say things like:
- So what I hear you saying is…
- Can you explain that again? I’m not sure I understand.
- I hear that you’re… (afraid, upset, angry, scared, happy, etc)
- How can I best help you in this time?
- I’d like to summarize what I’ve heard so far.
These are just a few ways we can gain al little clarity when we’re having a discussion or conversation. Especially when the stakes are high we want to make sure we’re hearing the right things. Maybe they don’t want any help. Asking for clarification, summarizing your thoughts, and asking for permission to help are all ways to make sure you’re going down the same road together.
Take some time to slow down your conversations. Create pause points in your talks to make sure you know what the other person is saying. Ask clarifying questions. All in all your goal is to make sure that everyone is hearing what’s really being said. Then when you’re on the right page and in the moments of silence form your reply. Don’t be afraid of silence. It won’t hurt you!