Thursday, September 10, 2009
Five Steps to Being a Better Listener
Do you feel distant from your partner. You've done all you know to do to show interest, yet he or she seems distant. The problem may be that you show interest but have not challenged your partner to a more intimate relationship. Do you pursue closeness through asking to be heard rather than listening to your partner. If you become a better listener, then you may find the deeper connection you desire.
Step One: Be an active listener. Listening can be a passive activity. One talks, the other listens. However, if you want a deeper connection you must be an active listener. An active listener clarifies the message they hear. "Are you saying...?" "Do you mean...?" You will find that your partner doesn't just say, "Yes, that what I mean." Rather, he or she will elaborate on his or her viewpoint, feelings, and desires.
Step Two: Listen with openness. If your mind is closed, then it is unlikely that you will be open to unexpected information. Being closed-minded says, "There is one way to see this and it is my way." This communicates that control is more important than connection. Being open suggests that you are interested in your partner's views even if they differ from yours. You are suggesting that you respect your partner's position even when you do not share that position.
Step Three: Be accepting. Turtles retreat into their shells when the environment is dangerous. Humans have an invisible shell that forms when a relationship feels dangerous. Even though we are imperfect human beings, we like to see ourselves as basically good and worthy of others' respect. We distance from those who disrespect our rights. A good listener communicates, "I respect your right to your views, feelings, and desires." When we differ I will maintain a respect for you at all times.
Step Four: Stop trying to be a caretaker or problem-solver. Listening is an active process but stops short of taking responsibility for others' well-being. Men are often interested in turning listening into problem-solving while women often listen with the goal of nurturing or care-taking. While motivated by good intent, they become a hindrance to finding a deeper connection. A good listener says, "I want to understand your struggle and to connect with you as deeply as possible, but you must assume responsibility for your own decisions and behavior.
Step Five: Be encouraging. While you shouldn't be in the role of caretaker or problem-solver, you can be a powerful source of encouragement. By helping your partner focus on his or her personal assets and abilities, you communicate your belief in his or her ability to manage their lives. By communicating a desire to be close and a genuine enthusiasm for your partner, you are saying, "I value you and I believe in your abilities. I just want you to know that I am here to support you."
Good listening does not always lead to a closer relationship. Some lack a basic trust in relationships. Efforts to become close with these individuals fail because they have been taught that closeness brings pain, not safety and security. Such individuals do not want to be distant and do not want to be close, so they do things to draw you in, then set up limits on how close they will allow you to come.