Listening Skills for Better Relationships
I use to take soft skill classes for my students in college. Listening skills was my favourite topic. It is one skill I feel most of us are deficient in. We learn a lot in school and college, we learn to read, write… but listening, one of the most important and even essential life skill is what we miss out on.
We are never taught how to listen effectively. We are never told how important listening is going to be all through our life. Listening which is even more important than speaking well. Right from school and college where listening is important for efficient learning. Listening which will get us to do better in work place as well as have better relationships at home. Listening is the base of a good marriage and equally important in one’s parenting journey ( absolutely saying it from my experience).
When we are not able to speak well, we take on a hundred classes to enhance our speech. We grow up learning that the key to success is in being able to express what you know. But we have two ears and one mouth…. I mean apart for the biological need for that system, is it also not an indication that we need to listen more than we speak.
Also it is generally those who listen well that can speak well. Because listening helps us gather more information, listening helps us know what our audience wants to know. So you really cannot be a good speaker unless you are a good listener.
Listening is an important part of the communication model. No communication can be complete without listening and for communication to be effective it is important that listening to be effective. There is so much data loss that happens while listening that leads to poor communication. It is the duty of the listener to not only pay attention to words but also body cues and intonations. But the problem essentially starts because we are distracted in our own thoughts.
I think one of the major reason listening skills are ignored all through is because listening needs us to take our focus away from ourselves. It seeks that we attend to another. And obviously we are so much centred into ourselves. We are constantly lost in our thoughts.
Improving Listening skills for Small Kids
Now since I am a mom I cannot not talk about how to improve the listening skills in our kids. It is our responsibility to equip our children with better listening skills because that will also help them be more connected to their peers and family and be more empathetic. Now that we know how it has affected us, we must help our kids do better.
Now because of their enthusiasm to explore kids find it very boring to be in one place and listen. But of course it can be worked upon.
Listening needs active involvement. One can be a better listener if they are more mindful, more in the moment and that is something that comes naturally to small kids. But sadly we use too much of technology around them and spoil it for them. Too much exposure to screens can take awy their ability to focus better.
Also we as parents need to show good listening for them to model us. The best way of teaching a child something is to do it. If you do not listen to your kids, are always distracted how would your child learn how to listen well. So even if you are in the middle of something when your child talks to you, take your eyes off your work… look into your child’s eyes and then speak… even if you have to tell them to give you 10 minutes to finish what you are doing ( believe me it will also make them abide by your request more )
Myra has wonderful listening skills. It was not something that I consciously worked on but something that happened as a result of the following:
We read regularly. We have been in fact reading ever since she was 6 months. Bedtime reading is a ritual both she and I are addicted to. Do read this post about our reading journey and why you should read with your child too.
Now she is 6 and a good reader, yet I read to her at bedtime. This is especially to help her improve her listening skills. Also it helps her learn to stay focused.
Another thing that helped us a lot is story telling. Kids love stories and that is one thing that will hold them down and make them listen effectively. Me and my husband ( he more than me) often, well almost daily, tell her stories. Of late she is also listening to bedtime stories of Krishna from a dear friend. She would listen to the story from her dad or somewhere else and come and retell me the same. The retelling tells us how well she was listening, what aspects caught her attention and what details she might have missed. So these two things have been especially good in our journey in helping her develop better listening skills.
Apart for this below are some more ideas to help your child develop their listening skills:
- Simon says is a wonderful game for helping children listen attentively. This is best played with couple of children around but my daughter loves it even when I play with just her.
- Audio stories… It can be an awesome practice of listening to stories together with your child.
- Read stories in an interactive manner. Keep connected to the child to know they are still listening. Asking questions, making them guess can be simple ways to keep them engaged.
- A game like Pictionary but where instead you give directions and they need to draw as per what they hear.
- Also in a group of friends or between parents and kids, you can have a game where the story goes in a chain. So each next person has to build upon the story, for which they will need to hear what was said earlier.
Why Listening Skills are important
Listening is the most important part of the communication. Just imagine if nobody listens what is the point in all that talking. Listening effectively truly completes the communication process. While hearing is just the biological process performed by our ears, listening is when we understand what we hear. Say for example while I write this there are many sounds around that I can remotely hear but I would not pay attention to them since they do not matter. But if instead it were the sound of my child saying something I would immediately stop my work and listen to what she is saying.
So when we pay attention to what is being heard and understand it, it truly is listening.
Listening is extremely important for success at work life. You are bound to make mistakes if you do not listen well.
But what I want to emphasize here is how listening well can help build beautiful relationship with our family and friends.
Intimate relations are totally thriving on listening. Each of us want to be heard and being a woman I know we want it much more than men. For a good relation with your spouse or partner it is important that you pay attention to what they have to say. The initial sparks in a relationship eventually wear off and in the long term it is these things that matter. But in the long term we become judgmental and keep jumping to our conclusions. We may be busy with work, but when a loved one is talking to us – stop all that you are doing and give them your full attention.
In parenting too listening is extremely important. And do not wait for your kids to grow up, do it right from the start. For if we do not listen when they are small they may never come and talk to us when they are older. And when it comes to parenting listening and even communicating in general is something that you really need to master. Two books that I have really found helpful in this regard are How to Talk so little kids will listen and How to talk so Kids will listen and Listen so kids will talk. The first one pertains mostly to communicating with small kids and toddlers while the second one is for bigger age groups. These books are gems when it comes to mastering your listening skills with kids. Another problem parents face is that kids do not listen, that is because we are not talking correctly. Especially so in case of little kids. You would find some excellent advice in these books.
Listening in parenting helps you connect in the most beautiful ways. And as parents we have to even encourage our children to talk so we can listen and know them better.
Even with your parents it is very important to listen. Life is in a hurry all the time, we do not have the time to stop and listen unless it means something to us….. but know that it means a lot to the other person. Your family and friends will so much appreciate you for your time, if you would give them a ear when they need it most.
What Impedes Listening?
External Factors: The environment where the communication is happening can be a major deterrent to listening. The sounds, the people moving around can greatly disturb the communication process.
Say a couple walks into a fancy restaurant for a date but one partner is too much into the environment. While the other one talks this person even though listening to the words does not pay attention to gestures, expression and fails to make eye contact and hence does not feel the emotions behind the words. This may not happen so much in initial days of courting a person, but more when the two people have been together for a while.
In relationships listening attentively is one of the best ways to show you are concerned, you are around for them. Sometimes that is all a person is seeking!
It is important to choose an environment that does not distract you. Also since most of the times this happens due to lack of awareness, so by being aware of this fact and also the feelings of the other and making intentional efforts we definitely can be better listeners.
Mobiles are also a big nuisance. It is most needed that we have rules with regard to usage of mobile around our friends and family.
Instant gratification (Impatience): Our impatience and our own feelings stop us from listening to the other person. Unless we feel some need met we may very soon withdraw our attention from what is being said. So as a result we do not even let the other person complete what they want to say. We just make or rather jump to conclusions and stop listening.
Being judgmental: Our own judgement also is a major roadblock to listening effectively. Our own opinion of what is being spoken about or about the person who is talking, greatly affect our listening. And this is really so with our loved ones. We have an image of them and we always assume we know what they are going to say.
Sadly we pass a judgement too soon. Truly it is only by listening that we can change our opinions but being stuck on our opinions and the lack of patience to hear the other person out, stops us from doing just that.
Inflexible personal view: When we are too rigid with our opinions we never give the other person a chance to express theirs. This can be really harsh in a relationship. Relationships, whether it is intimate, parenting or just friends, need us to be flexible. We need to be tolerant of the opinions and views of the other person. We must give our loved ones a open heart and mind so that they can express themselves. Compassionate listening is what one needs to practice. We must keep our opinions aside and listen to the other person and be ready to change.
The problem is that we are most opinionated with the people we love the most. We are not ready to listen or accept that they could be right!
Internal vs External Focus: Listening needs to have an external focus. But the Problem is that we are mostly focused within. We are thinking of how something makes us feel. We do not think of the emotions of the one speaking to us. We take words too personally. As if they are aimed at us. But remember when someone speaks it is their emotions and views, it has not much to do with us. Even though it may be about us. So instead of focusing on what the words mean to you, think of what it means to the one to be saying it!
Like a whining child, we can only really listen to them when we take our focus to how they are feeling instead of how their whining is making us feel. Like previously mentioned this needs compassionate listening.
Mentally rehearsing the reply: This is the biggest problem in listening. We do not listen to understand the other person, we only listen to reply to express what are our views. So with our judgements and pre conceived notions we quickly come to a reply and do not listen too long. We are then only seeking an opportunity to express ourselves!
Daydreaming: Many a times it may so happen we are lost in our own thoughts when someone is talking to us. It happens a lot with me when I am busy in the kitchen, cooking, and planning the rest of the day. My daughter would be excitedly telling me stories and I find it so difficult to focus. So what works for me is consciously pulling myself out of my thoughts and coming to the present and paying attention to her little stories.
Filtering: We fail to listen in entirety. We filter the information we receive on the basis of our pre conceived notions, judgments that we may carry, the opinion we have of the person we are talking to, our mood at that time and many more such factors.
Knowing these factors that affect our listening is a very good first step to improving upon them. Awareness is what brings the change. Now that you know what you may be doing wrong you can be aware of it when you listen to someone. This should help you pay better attention to what the other person is saying.
Listening is just not limited to words. As an effective listener you must look at the other cues the person speaking may be giving away. This is really very important in enhancing our relationships with our loved ones. Looking into their eyes, at their body language would tell us so much more about how they are feeling. And as you do it, you will find it gets easier to understand the hidden message.
Simple tips to improve your listening skills:
- Put yourself in the other persons place. Try to understand what they must be feeling. Be compassionate and empathetic.
- Pay close attention to other non verbal cues like body language, facial expressions.
- Do not be judgmental or bring your pre conceived thoughts into the message. Be focused only on the speaker.
- Maintain eye contact. Your body language must tell them that they are being heard. Nodding and expressions like hmm, uh huh are helpful.
- Try to understand the feelings behind the words. Paying attention to body language and tone can help in this.
- Empathetic reflection can be very helpful in better understanding the speaker. Repeat what you understood to them.
I have been practicing a lot of this with my family and friends and most importantly in my parenting. It makes a world of difference when you actively listen.
Leaving you with this beautiful quote