Active Listening Skills to Help in Relationships (and Life!)

Listening skills

Poor communication can cause difficultly in all types of relationships. Sometimes we forget that listening is key to effective conversations. It doesn’t matter how well someone articulates their needs or concerns if we’re not fully listening.

When we listen, we learn. So whether we’re learning a new skill, getting to know someone better, or trying to understand a problem, active listening prevents us from missing crucial information.

In a personal relationship, we can build trust and stronger bonds. We can identify or anticipate problems and resolve conflicts more quickly at work. Active listening can help us maintain conversations and develop connections in social situations.

Listening well can help us in virtually every area of our lives. Fortunately, it’s never too late to improve listening skills. These tips can help.

Provide Eye Contact
We’ve all heard that actions speak louder than words. This is undoubtedly true when listening. Maintaining constant eye contact shows that the other person has our undivided attention. However, continuous eye contact can feel unnatural and uncomfortable for some people.

One option is to use the 50/70 rule. When you are the speaker, make eye contact 50% of the time. When listening, try to make eye contact 70% of the time. Aim to maintain eye contact for at least four or five seconds.

Moving your eyes away slowly shows that you are processing what is said. However, shifting away too quickly can make us seem nervous or untrustworthy. Another option is to break eye contact with gestures, such as closing our eyes when we nod. We can also move our eyes to the speaker’s mouth or an area close to the eyes.

Offer Nonverbal Cues
We can also use other nonverbal cues to show that we are actively listening. Mirroring is a technique that can improve communication. Subtly adopting the speaker’s pose or facial expressions with two benefits. First, it helps us understand our conversation partner’s feelings. It can also help the speaker feel more connected to the listener.

If it is comfortable and appropriate, we can use touch to show that we are present and hearing what someone has to say. For instance, an arm around one shoulder or a touch on the hand can provide reassurance.

Smiling is another simple yet powerful form of nonverbal communication. Nodding, appropriate facial expressions, and leaning in toward the speaker all show care and concern.

Hold Off on Opinions
We should try to listen without judgment. It is normal to have feelings and ideas about what someone says. However, active listening means we are prioritizing the speaker. Putting our opinions aside shows support.

When we are busy thinking about our ideas and formulating responses, we are not fully listening. We should also avoid interrupting. Letting the other person finish speaking before we interject is respectful and caring.

Allow for silence, especially if you believe the other person is not finished. Give your conversation partner time to collect their thoughts, process their feelings, and just “be.” Use nonverbal cues to show that you are calm, patient, and willing to wait until they are ready to continue.

Affirm and Ask Questions
When there is an appropriate break or when the other person has finished talking, we can check in to make sure we comprehend them. Essentially, we want to rephrase what they said and repeat it back to them.

For example, we might say, “What I hear you saying is that you feel like you are doing most of the work on the project,” or “It seems like you feel disheartened by what your mom said.” Then, the speaker can confirm that we are on the same page or explain what they meant.
We can also ask questions for clarification.

For instance, if we ask, “How did it make you feel when he did that?” they know we were paying attention and can provide deeper insight.

Start Sharing
Once we have actively listened and made sure we understand the speaker, we can add to the conversation. However, we should still take care to remain nonjudgmental and empathetic. One way that we can enhance the discussion is by sharing a relevant story.

For example, revealing how you got through a tough time or divulging how you felt in a similar situation can help deepen your relationship. Another option is to share ideas that your conversation triggered.

However, unless the other party asks for advice, we should restrain from sharing suggestions or opinions. People often seek a sounding board or a sympathetic ear to whom they can vent.

Just being there and actively listening are often enough. Consider counseling if you struggle with improving your listening skills or feel your relationship would benefit from an unbiased but caring third party. Compassionate, professional therapists have a deep understanding of active listening and can help you reach your goals.

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