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Two ears and one mouth: The art of active listening

While it is good to talk in a relationship, communication is a two way stream – when you are not expressing what you think and feel then you need to be listening. However, in relationships it is easy to feel that your words are falling on plugged ears or that you have to shout to be heard. Dialogue can dry up or turn into a diatribe of shouting matches with both sides playing the blame and accusation game. It is not surprising that thoughts and emotions are lost in the disconnect.

Listen to philosophical wisdom

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” So said Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher who lived nearly 2,000 years ago, and his ears would be ringing due to lack of real communication that exists between so many couples today. He understood the importance of listening, and his message has almost been lost in the sands of time – but it isn’t too late to listen to old adages.

Listen to why you need to listen

If you are more of a fan of quick-fire repartee or believe in actions rather than words, then here are just a few benefits of learning how to effectively and actively listen in a relationship:

  • You can learn more about your partner, yourself and your relationship.
  • You can more easily understand someone else’s point of view and their feelings.
  • You can communicate more smoothly.
  • You can respond with empathy and sensitivity.
  • It is socially polite and makes the other person feel valued.

The art of active listening

If you are really not sure if you are perceived as a good listener, then why not ask your partner what they think… and make sure you listen to the answer! If you would like to learn the art of active listening, here are 10 tips to help your communication skills:

  • Give your full attention – Try to not be distracted or engaged in any actions that will dilute your focus, such as looking at your phone or fiddling with something as you listen.
  • Demonstrate that you are listening and interested – Show you are actively listening and have an interest in what is being said by making eye contact with your partner and also asking questions. This will encourage them to be open and help them feel comfortable in expressing themselves.
  • Respond to what is being said – This is called “reflective listening” and is really about giving feedback to reassure your partner that not only are you listening, you are also understanding what is being said. Don’t just wait your turn to speak or stick to what you planned to say regardless. Take in and respond to your partner’s words, and reflect the content back to them to make sure you are understanding correctly.
  • Listen with your heart – Active listening is not just about attention and comprehending words, it is also far more subtle. To understand the motive and the sentiment of spoken words you need to listen to the feeling behind them, and this comes from opening your heart as you listen.
  • Don’t interrupt – Especially if you feel criticized, there is often the temptation to fight your corner, or at least get your point across and be heard too. However, by interrupting or talking over your loved one you are simply shutting down your active listening and closing the lines of communication.
  • Try not to act like you have heard it all before – When we know someone well it is tempting to feel that we know most of what they think and feel; after all, we know so many intricate details about them. However, many arguments go around in circles simply because people try to second guess or jump to conclusions about what the other person is saying, without really taking the time to listen.
  • Find the time and place to listen – We are bombarded with information and stimuli throughout the day, which makes listening feel like an extra demand on resources that can prove physically and mentally exhausting. Try to find the appropriate time and space needed to talk and to listen.
  • Be respectful – If you do not have respect in a relationship, communication can soon dissolve. Caring about what somebody says and believing that they have a right to speak and be listened to goes a long way in making active listening a natural element of your relationship.
  • Don’t practice selective listening – Have you ever only heard what you wanted to hear? Cherry-picking words or sentences and isolating their meaning away from the whole conversation can take the message out of context and lead to miscommunication.
  • Think about what is being said and don’t just hear the words – We can listen so much quicker than we can talk and that is one reason why it is easy to feel frustrated waiting for someone else to finish a sentence. To actively listen, shift your focus onto not just hearing the words but deciphering what they mean and what your partner is actually trying to say to you. This may require you not to respond right away, which is okay- there will be enough time for you to say your piece.

Once you have learned how to listen you will find it much easier to communicate too. Take time to practice active listening, not only with your partner but with others as well, such as friends, family and co-workers. While you may believe listening is an innate ability, it is in fact a practiced skill that once mastered can enhance your relationship.

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