Better Ways to Listen

This month, we’re talking about how to improve communication, beginning with last week’s post on 12 foolproof communication skills for couples. This post is a continuation of the communication theme by focusing on better ways to listen.

We hear, but are we really listening? So much distraction invades our headspace, and it’s no wonder we’re not available to others much of the time. To those that really need it – our partners, children and loved ones – how much are you really listening to what they’re saying? I think there are men who want to connect more deeply with their wives, girlfriends, fiancees, etc. and don’t know how. This is a great start, because there are better ways to listen.

For men, especially, listening is not the most developed tool in the interpersonal toolbelt. We’re often fixated on the outcome, or the solution, if our wife or girlfriend is talking through an issue. Our “fix-it” helmets are on, when they need to be put aside. Try “resting” your need to fix the outcome, or fixate on the “ending” of the story. Women like to talk “spirally,” whereas men like to talk “linearly.” Men talk over the phone to get to the end of the conversation; women talk for the sake of talking. This is foreign to men, I know. But, it’s a communication difference, and understanding this can benefit you quite a bit. Can you listen for it’s own sake, and shift your orientation from “get to the goal” to “being present and listening” for it’s own sake?

We can open up and deepen our relationships tenfold if we can harness the power of listening – truly listening. Can we take in the other person’s words, as well as their body language, facial expression and other non-verbal cues to come up with a complete message about what they’re trying to communicate to us?

Carving out time to talk – and listen – is also essential. I know I’m useless to talk and listen when I’m hungry/tired/bored/spent from working. I have to be upfront that I’m not available to talk or listen at those times, and you should to. Developing rules of the game, if you will, with your spouse as to when are the available times to listen will go a long way in helping her feel like you care, and aren’t blowing her off.

And, don’t talk about yourself. I know, it’s tempting to want to share your experience. But just this once, try to relax that need. Let her talk. She needs to feel as if she’s important to you, and that what she says is important. She wouldn’t be talking with you if she didn’t think that what she had to say wasn’t important.

You can ask probing questions, and go deeper into the topic that she’s describing. What was her experience with the conflict at work she’s describing? What are her feelings about said topic? If you can ask the deeper questions to open up the conversation, she’s going to sense your interest and will want to open up more. You’re helping her feel comfortable, and buying yourself some nice trusting feelings you can put in the bank.

And finally, just be present. It’s not a vague thing: it’s real. Just be there, listening. That’s it. Don’t get up and walk around. Sit and be still. Tune in with your eye contact, and pace yourself along through the conversation. You don’t have to act like a counselor or interviewer; just be yourself.

Listening is one of the hardest things on the planet to do, especially for guys like us. If you can develop this tool, you’ll be unstoppable. People will naturally attract themselves to you and will want to have your attention. I think people are hungry to have themselves heard, because, unfortunately, they aren’t so much in their lives. If you can be that guy that people want to talk with, you’re investing well in your relationships, and I would say that’s the makings of a very good life.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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