Written by Kristin Barton Cuthriell, M.Ed., MSW, LCSW
“The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” Dr. Karl Menninger
Listening improves relationships. Everyone wants to feel heard. This is a universal truth. When you truly listen to someone, you are telling them that you care about them and that you value what they have to say. Listening involves a lot more than just being quiet. True listening involves empathy, understanding, and validation. And, yes, you can empathize, understand, and validate a person even if you do not agree with their opinion.
To improve listening, you have to first know what is getting in your way. Many people experience certain roadblocks to listening, but if those blocks are identified, they can be removed. Without these blocks, communication improves and so does the relationship.
See if any of the following roadblocks interfere with your ability to truly listen to your partner or to others.
- Derailing: When someone wants to discuss your behavior, you change the subject, make a joke of it, or bring up a past grievance about them in order to avoid the conversation.
- Being right: This is when you are so concerned with being right, you stop listening to what is being said.
- Mind reading: Instead of listening to what is actually being said, you are busy trying to figure out what the other person really means. You may be so focused on hidden messages that you miss the real thing.
- Rehearsing: You are so preoccupied thinking about what you will say next, you miss what was said to you.
- Judging: You come up with some negative judgement about the person; therefore, you tune them out.
- Filtering: You listen to only what you want to hear. The other person compliments you on ten things that you did that day, but their one suggestion is viewed as criticism, and that is all that you hear.
- Advising: The other person can only get a few words out before you are explaining how to fix the situation.
- Arguing: It does not matter what the subject is, you will immediately be thinking of a way to disagree. You enjoy taking the opposite position.
- One-up impressing: Whatever they did, you did more. As soon as they begin to tell you about their experience, you stop listening and begin thinking of your own more impressive experience.
Everyone has a difficult time listening at some point or another; I know I do. But if we can identify ways in which we block listening, we can practice eliminating those blocks so that our relationships can grow in healthy ways.
Many of the blocks to listening were taken from the book, Couple Skills, by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Patrick Fanning, and Kim Paleg, Ph. D. Published by New Harbinger Publishers, Inc 1994