One of the major causes that couples seek professional help for is their difficulty communicating, especially listening. This prevents couples from understanding each other and, even more importantly, from solving problems or compromising. Therefore, the same problems keep coming up time after time. I want to clarify that most people do not learn to listen effectively. We usually learn how to listen growing up in our environment, form our parents or role models. We all don’t have the fortune to grow up around effective communicators. We usually encounter difficulty in our relationships, at home, at work and, and in our friendships before we realize that we need to work on our listening skills. In my experience, active listening is one of the most important communication skills. Here are some basic active listening techniques that I usually teach couples who are seeking to improve their communication:
- Clarifying : Asking questions to help you understand what the speaker is trying to say. Example: “Are you saying that I insulted you?”
- Restating: Restate your understanding of what is being said with facts or the basic idea of what is being communicated. Example: “Just so I understand, you’re saying that I called you at an inappropriate time yesterday?”
- Encouraging: Showing interest in what the speaker is saying by using neutral words and a neutral tone of voice in an effort to encourage him/her to continue talking. Examples: “Go on….” , “O.K.”, “Uh huh.”
- Summarizing: Reviewing progress of the conversation, restating major ideas, and establishing a basis for further discussion. Example: “Let me make sure that I understand what you’re saying. You’re frustrated at work because your boss is given you extra responsibilities?”
- Validating: Acknowledging the other person’s feelings, efforts and worthiness. Example: “It sounds like you put a lot of effort into finishing your project at work.”
- Reflecting: To reflect the speaker’s basic feelings as you understand them. Example: “You seem sad about your friend moving to a different town.”
These active listening skills can be challenging to put into action because our feelings about a situation can get in the way of our efforts to be effective communicators. However, with practice, you can learn to master these skills and become a better communicator.