Listening to Listening
Even though we speak the same language, it can be easy for us to misunderstand our loved ones when communicating. This is especially true when we feel angry, agitated, or anxious while communicating important matters.
Our human tendency might be to either shut down or shout; attack or hide; share too brief or too bulky, etc. They key in this situation is to break our thoughts into smaller pieces while slowing down the communication process. This brings us to the power of active listening!
Empathy: This is a great word to sum up active listening. Empathy means "em" (into) "pathy" (feeling). When you listen to and validate your loved one, it helps them know you care because you are "entering into their world."
Overview of Active Listening
Sharer: Share with an “I” statement (see below for examples). Don’t attack or belittle your loved one (focus on their behavior, or how you perceive their intents). Keep each time of sharing brief (one or two sentences). For example: If you have a "four bullet point" response, process "one bullet point" at a time with one another before moving on to the next.
Listener: Listen to what your loved one shares (you don’t have to agree with them). Hear what your loved is saying (rather than formulating what you will say next while they share). Prepare yourself to not be defensive.
Sharer & Listener: Healthy communication takes time. This process can be slow, so be patient, as the results are rewarding. Remember that your loved one desires to be heard—just like you do!
We communicate with more than words! Be self-aware of how you communicate, and invite your loved one to share what they see in you too: Verbal (the words we use); voice tone; eyes; facial expressions; and body language.
Examples of Healthy and Unhealthy Listening Styles
Unhealthy You Statement:
“You are so messy. You make me angry because you are such a slob.”
Healthy I Statement (“I feel___, when _____, because_____”):
“I feel anger when the house is a mess, because a disorganized house doesn’t help me feel at home.”
Listener: “I heard you say….” (The Listener repeats back what was said).
Sharer: ”Yes, you heard me.” or “Let me clarify again.” (The Sharer affirms or clarifies).
<Repeat this process until you find closure, or more closure, to your issue at hand>
Unhealthy Blaming Statement:
“You make me so angry when you don’t pick up your things!”
Healthy Emotions Statement:
“I feel anger when the room is messy.”
<Focus on the emotions you feel as the behavior/situation happens>
Unhealthy Judgment Statement:
“You got so angry when I talked to you about this.”
Healthy Perception Statement:
“I perceive you got angry when I talked to you about this. Help me understand, what did you feel?”
<This helps you validate what you perceive, and it gives your loved one a voice to what they actually think and feel>
Unhealthy Labeling Statement:
“You are so type A! Sometimes I wish you would just loosen up.”
Healthy Affirmation Statement:
“I appreciate that you stick to the details. I’ve never been strong at that. How can we get things in order and have flexibility at the same time?
<We all have a particular personality style. Each type has strengths and weaknesses. Affirm your loved one's strengths, and also find a way to make each of your personality types flow together>
Unhealthy Immediacy Statement:
“Don’t walk away! We need to take care of this right now!”
Healthy Timing Statement:
“Would you like a break? When is a good time we can talk again?”
<Let your loved one have time to think and cool off as needed. Resume later, letting your loved one determine when that will be. There are two errors that can be made: One, talking things over too quickly when emotions are running hot. Two, never talking again (or letting the issue go dormant until it surfaces again). Discover the balance together about timing>
Unhealthy Assumption Statement:
“You said you cared, but when you rolled your eyes, it was obvious that you didn’t.”
Healthy Discernment Statement:
“You said you cared, but I noticed you rolled your eyes. Help me understand how you felt.”
“You said you weren’t bothered, but when you looked toward the ground, I perceived it did bother you. Help me understand, what did you feel?”
<This allows you to vocalize what you perceive, and let your loved one share what they were actually feeling. The key with empowering loved ones is not defining how they think and feel, but validating their thoughts and feelings by being open to hearing them>
Again--"Empathy!": This is a great word to sum up active listening. Empathy means "em" (into) "pathy" (feeling). When you listen to and validate your loved one, it helps them know you care because you are "entering into their world." The below article has powerful stories about how empathetic listening works--even between "enemies:"