Good Listening Skills
- Good listening can help couples communicate more effectively. Although you may feel that listening is easy or natural, it isn't. Active listening that involves trying to understand your partner is very difficult. It usually takes some training and practice in listening skills.
- Before responding, a good listener will try to -
- Completely understand what the partner was trying to communicate - what the partner wants and how the partner is feeling.
- Request the feedback and information needed to accurately summarize what the partner intended to say.
- Questions you can use to get such feedback are -
- Are you saying ... ?
- I'm not sure what you mean; can you explain that to me?
- How are you feeling now?
- Are you mad or upset with me?
- I don't think I understand your point; can you explain it a little differently?
- Can you give me an example? I'm not sure I understand why you are so upset.
- Validation. It is important that you try to validate partners'feelings, that is, let them feel that you think you can understand how and why they feel the way they are feeling. Communicate to them that their feelings make sense. This does not necessarily mean that you agree with them, but that you can understand their point of view. Validating feelings is probably the most important way you can let them know you care about them and the way they feel. It lets partners know that they are important. There are very few other effective ways to convey that message to your partner.
- Examples of validating statements are -
- I can understand how you would feel that way, given that ...
- No wonder you feel so angry.
- If that's how you see it, no wonder you are so upset.
- Examples of statements that are not validating are -
- That's silly.
- You shouldn't feel that way.
- That's ridiculous.
- I don't think that should upset you so much.
- If you can't validate your partner's feelings because you are too upset, take some time to regroup. Suggest a short break in the conversation. Come back when you feel you can validate your partner's feelings.
- A major cause of poor communication is not listening to your partner. Each partner must seek to understand the other. If you don't understand a problem, it is very hard to fix it. If you can't hear and understand your partner's point of view, the problem will never be resolved effectively.
- Poor listening usually sends the following messages:
- I am not interested in your opinions or feelings.
- Your feelings are ridiculous or silly.
- You are foolish to have those feelings.
- Your feelings don't deserve my attention or concern.
- My opinions and feelings are more important that yours.
- My opinions and feelings are more reasonable than yours.
- Obviously, these messages will not resolve a problem. Most likely, they will cause more resentment, bad feelings, and difficulties.
- Identifying poor listening behavior is not always easy. A few things to look for are -
- Self-summarizing: You or your partner continually restate your position over and over during a discussion or argument.
- Cross-complaining: The complaint of one partner is met with a complaint by the other instead of problem solving the original complaint. Thus, many old complaints and issues are brought up each time an issue is raised.
- Mind-reading: issues are avoided (at least at first) by partners feeling and acting as if they know the other partner's feelings and desires. This results in one partner feeling left out of decisionmaking, unimportant, and resentful.
Stop Action or Timeout: Dealing With Poor Communication
- The time to act to prevent or effectively deal with conflict is when you recognize that you are getting a response from your partner that you did not intend to get.
- If you or your partner realize that miscommunication has occurred, one of you should call a timeout or stop action. You should simply say hold it, timeout, or whatever vou find comfortable. This should signal that it is time to stop the discussion and try to analyze what went wrong.
- Once one of you calls a timeout, you should both do the following:
- Find out why your partner is upset or has responded in a particular way.
- Express the message you intended to communicate and specify the response you expected.
- See if you can identify anything like voice tone or bad mood that affected the communication.
- Ask yourselves the following:
- Are there any hidden agendas?
- What was I trying to say? Did I say it in an appropriate manner?
- Was I trying hard to understand my partner?
- Was I being impolite or just plain stubborn?
- Did I demonstrate that I cared what my partner was feeling?
- Restart the conversation with the intention of listening to your partner. Use good communication skills to express your feelings. Do not blame each other, and try to identify what went wrong the first time in terms of good communication skills. These steps can be used to guide the timeout:
- Call timeout or stop action.
- Listen for feedback from your partner.
- Try to summarize your partner's viewpoint.
- Try to validate your partner's feelings.
Patterns of Communication Problems
Once you start identifying the communication problems that exist in your relationship, you will probably notice that you and your partner have developed certain patterns or styles that occur time and time again. just like any other behavior, the way you communicate - good or bad - has become a well-Iearned habit. The first step in changing these problematic communication patterns is to label them so you know what you need to deal with. Four common communication patterns that result in conflict are listed below.
- Mind-reading. The ineffective communication behaviors that occur when mind-reading is the problem are -
- You think your partner should know what you want or need without asking.
- If you have to tell your partner what you want, you feel it "doesn't count."
- You feel you know what your partner wants or is thinking without being told.
It is unrealistic for you to feel that your partner should know what you want or need. It would be nice if they did, but expecting it is a romantic fantasy. Directly communicating your needs, wants, and feelings is necessary for your partner to learn better to provide you with what you need. Similarly, don't assume you know what your partner wants; ask your partner so you can more effectively meet your partner's needs.
- Yes, but-ing. If you or your partner have this common communication problem, you will notice that during most arguments or disagreements one or both of you responds to the other's suggestion or opinion by saying, "Yes, but that won't work because...... or 'Yes, but you don't really understand why I didn't do it,' or 'Yes, but we can't do that because..." This type of communication sends the message that you don't want to change or meet your partner's needs or understand the partner's point of view. Instead of yes, but-ing, learn to respond by-
- Requesting more information.
- Suggesting a compromise.
- Saying positive things and being more understanding.
- Character assassination. Another common communication problem is making change requests or comments that attack your partner's whole self, rather than specific problem behaviors or areas for change. For example, if you find yourselves making statements like, "Can't you be more like Jim," or "Can't you stop always thinking of yourself," or "Why do you always have to be so stupid," then you are engaging in character assassination. This means you are making impossible demands on your partner or inaccurate critical statements. All this usually does is provoke defensive, aggressive, or hurt behavior from your partner. It also does not let your partner know the specific things you would like the partner to do differently. It is important to learn to make specific change requests rather than global, vague assassinations. Also, it is important for the receiver of the assassination to ask the assassin to be more specific and say exactly what is wanted.
- The complaining rut. This problematic pattern of communication describes couples who complain all the time without including any suggestions for change or alternatives. If you hear you or your partner saying things like: "Why do you always have to be so mean" or "Can't you stop coming home late all the time" or "I wish you would stop hanging around with those folks" or "I wish you would spend more time with the kids," that is a complaining rut. If you make statements like that without including some alternatives or specific requests for change or improvement, then you are in a complaining rut. The problem with this approach is that, when you don't identify alternatives, all you can do is take note when your partner is engaging in the bad behavior again. If you suggest constructive alternatives, you can then take note of when the partner is making that change and feel good about it.
It is important to learn to only make complaints that include specific statements about what you would like your partner to do instead of the problem behavior. For example, instead of just saying, "I wish you would stop hanging around with those guys," you could include, "It would be nice if you spent some time each night with the kids helping them with their homework and maybe on Friday nights we could go out to the movies." Your goal should be to give your partner something specific to try to do so your partner can demonstrate an effort to change.