Be a Good Listener to Improve Relationship
By Susie and Otto Collins
When you were in preschool or kindergarten, you were
probably taught the importance of being a good listener.
We bet that just about everyone can remember a teacher
instructing the class to "put on your
Now that you are an adult and in a love relationship or
marriage, it might benefit you to return to and follow those
very basic directions.
When you think about improving communication in your
relationship, your focus might be on how you can speak to
your partner more clearly, assertively or expressively about
your emotions, your thoughts and your needs.
Of course, using well-chosen words that will help move you
and your mate closer together rather than put him or her on
the defensive is important.
But many of us forget that in order to cultivate better
communication in our relationships, we also need to be
engaged listeners and not just more skillful speakers.
In the midst of having a discussion about a difficult topic
with your partner, do you ever jump ahead in your mind to
figure out what you will say in response while he or she is
Or perhaps you spend much of your "listening" time in the
conversation planning out how or what you really want to
You might hear your partner speaking, but you aren't really
It could be that your mate says something that triggers you
in some way. Whatever he or she said has led to confused,
afraid, worried or angry emotions within you.
So now, rather than tuning in to the rest of what your
partner is trying to communicate, you are instead distracted
by your own assumptions and guesses about what your partner
Both of these half-listening scenarios are common from time
to time in just about every single love relationship. If you
do either or both of these, you are not alone.
But the fact remains, when you are only half-listening, or
not listening at all, to your partner because you are either
planning out what you want to say or you are caught up in
triggered assumptions about what your partner might be
trying to say, you are missing out.
You are missing out on the opportunity to better understand
where your partner is coming from.
And you are missing out on a possible moment of connection
with the one you love.
Practice engaged listening
Develop your listening skills. Practice listening to others
in an engaged way every day and in different contexts.
For example, really listen when your child shares with you
about his or her day at school rather than only
half-listening as you also think about what you'll prepare
To listen in an engaged way, clear your mind of other
thoughts for the time being.
Make eye contact if you are able to with the person who is
talking. If your attention begins to drift off, gently bring
yourself back and re-focus on what is being said.
Whenever you are communicating with another person, get into
the habit of fully listening to him or her. If you are busy,
be willing to ask the other person to hold that thought
until you have completed the task you are working on and are
Know that when you practice engaged listening with your
partner (or anyone), you are not making what you have to say
less important. Set up the conversation in a way that both
have ample time to talk.
You can even agree to specific talking time periods and then
set a kitchen timer if that idea appeals to you both.
Clear up uncertainty
Another aspect of engaged listening is making sure that you
are accurately understanding what the other person is
When he or she takes a pause or break in talking, you could
say something like this: "I am hearing that you want to
_________ . Is
this what you were saying?"
Sometimes what a person says and what another person hears
can be completely different.
You can avoid misunderstandings, irritation or hurt feelings
by occasionally throughout the conversation parroting back
to one another what you are hearing and then see if this is
If you feel triggered by something your partner says, you
could request, "Please tell me more about your perception
Again, when you give your partner the opportunity to clarify
and perhaps re-state his or her thoughts and feelings, it
might help you better understand.
You might also find yourself less likely to make
up a story about your partner that is simply untrue.
When you listen in an engaged way to your partner, you might
find that he or she begins to listen more attentively to
what you say.
As the two of you clear up misunderstandings before they
fester and cause disconnection, you can move closer