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How to Listen Better In Relationships

Updated on September 4, 2016
cclitgirl profile image

Cynthia is a writer, artist, and teacher. She loves studying language, arts and culture and sharing that knowledge.

Listening is a great life skill.
Listening is a great life skill. | Source

I've been accused of not listening very well at times. Usually it's because something else is distracting me: the television, email, the phone, making dinner, listening to music.

Being "plugged in" has its advantages, but listening skills can suffer.

I wanted to become a better listener. I don't like it when people say that I don't listen. Really, that makes me want to listen loudly and clearly.

I read a few things about it here and there, but decided to practice listening and see what would happen. Wouldn't you know, I got better at it. I noticed a few things, too.

To Be a Better Listener, Practice Listening

You can't just decide that you're going to be good at something and then be good at it in that instant. Anything worthwhile takes practice, and listening is no exception.

So, the first step in becoming a better listener is to consciously affirm that you are going to practice being a better listener.

Once you do this, within a short time you'll actually notice yourself communicating more effectively and taking the time to really listen to peoples' conversations.

Look at body language when communicating.
Look at body language when communicating. | Source

Get Unplugged

I realized immediately that when I wanted to really listen to someone, I had to eliminate distractions. I

t's not always easy to turn everything off and tune into the person to whom you're speaking, but it really makes a difference.

When I get home, I love to talk to my husband about his day and recount stories from mine. But, I often end up doing this while cooking dinner or while the news is on. I

instituted a new habit: when we are talking, I put the soup spoon down or I mute/turn off the TV.

Then, we can have a really engaged conversation.

When we're finished a few minutes later, I pick up the soup spoon again and he can turn the TV back on, or vice versa.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

— Epictetus

Put Your Focus on the Person to Whom You Are Speaking

This means look at the person you are speaking to when having a conversation.

Face him or her and tune everything else out. (Of course, if you have children running around or other pressing matters, you'll have to tend to those first and then focus when you have a few moments free.)

Watch their emotions and look at what they're wearing and the movement of their hands. By doing this, you become "tuned in" to that person.

That invites more communication and encourages the other person to continue speaking to you.

How Well Do You Think You Listen?

See results

Watch Body Langage

When you focus on the other person in the conversation, you then can focus on how he or she is interacting with you. If his arms are crossed, he might not be in a mood for open conversation.

If her hands are waving wildly, she might be utterly elated and might not necessarily have the patience at that moment to hear your end of the conversation.

If he has tight shoulders, he might be feeling extraordinarily frustrated and may need some space.

If he's biting his nails, he's nervous about something and might not be able to communicate at an optimal level.

Don't forget about your own body language.

You might be sending a message that you're not really listening.

If your back is turned while she's speaking to you, she might stop talking because she's going to know that you're into something else at that moment.

If you're not looking at him and looking at the floor, he might think there's something wrong and begin to probe you about what's going on in your life.

Honest, open communication involves open body language: open arms, legs are shoulder-width apart and hands are relaxed.

Source

Shut Your Mouth

We all want to be listened to and heard. All of us. But, you're not hearing or listening if you always have to interject your opinion and ideas every time the other person takes a breath.

When speaking to someone, let him or her finish their entire thought. Wait a couple of moments before responding. That way, you can let the weight of the words sink in and take on meaning before you blurt something out that may or may not add to the conversation.

Consciously keep your mouth closed. Imagine a piece of tape over it so that you can hear the other person's words without interruption.

Paraphrase Back

One exceptional way to show someone that you really are listening is by taking what they say and rephrasing it back to him or her. That way you must listen attentively to be able to take in all that information, think about it, summarize, and regurgitate - all within seconds.

But, this tactic immediately lets the other person know that you are really interested (even if you're not) in what he or she is saying. Most importantly, you are being a great listener and communicator.

Have you ever tried to meditate?

See results

Ask Questions That Allow the Other Person to Explain In More Detail

That is, when you're having a conversation with someone, another way to show you're listening is to ask probing questions that allow the speaker to elaborate.

For example, if you have a friend that says, "I had a great day! I was recognized at work for outstanding effort!"

You can now ask your friend, "Tell me about it," or "I want to hear all about it."

Then, once they have explained what has occurred, you can then ask them, "How do you feel?" or "What are your goals now?"

In this way, you can draw out the speaker's thoughts. Furthermore, your speaker will know that you're doing your best to be a great communicator.

These types of questions need to be neutral and open-ended. Don't interject your opinion until it is asked of you. Many times, people just want to share without fear of judgement.

Try Something Called "Dyads"

Dyads are basically when two people pick a theme and they both address it, one at a time.

For example, let's say the topic is "Feeling financially strapped." (Not a light conversation, I know!)

But, person A (the speaker) talks for ten minutes while the other faces him/her and just listens. At the end of the ten minutes, the person B (the listener) summarizes what the first person said and asks if he/she understood everything person A said.

Then switch. Person B is now the speaker for 10 minutes and Person A is now the listener.

This is an incredible activity for really hearing someone out and getting their perspective. It is a great foundational exercise for problem-solving.

Try Deep Listening

What is that, exactly?

Well, in a nutshell, it's meditation. While the other person is talking, you listen to his or her voice while also focusing on your breathing.

Your brain will generally cease all other thought-chatter.

Basically, by training your brain to focus intently like this for awhile, you teach it to tune things out and focus on one task at hand - such as other people in a conversation.

In addition, meditation allows you to improve your ability to "tune in" to people more easily and settle your mind into the moment. This is a great tool at home, at work, and in life.

Using these tactics, I feel like I have become a much better listener over the years.

I really try to focus, to tune in, to paraphrase and withhold comment until the other person in my conversations is finished.

These tactics are effective over the phone, as well. You just have to make sure that you're not "multitasking." It's hard to do, but with practice, it can be done!

© 2012 Cynthia Sageleaf

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    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Thanks, Audrey! HUGS!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      Great hub Cyndi!!

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      I love HUGS! Again: Back at ya' and I don't just say that to anyone. XOXO

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      (((HUGS)))@Jacy.

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      Back at ya Cyndi! : )

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Jacy - you're awesome. :)

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      Lol. Awww. Ditto Cyndi! : )

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! That's the sound of my brain not listening. Shhhhh. CRACK. Hehehe, Jacy, you can crack me up any ol' time you want. XD

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      You crack me up too

      We crack each other up! : D

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      albertsj - you crack me up. ~CC

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      Lol.. ; )

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      albertsj - what was that? I didn't quite get it. Print? Did you say print? I chuckled when I saw your comment. Hehehe.

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      I had to print it out, to remind myself every now and then...esp since I don't pay attention when reading...you know... : O

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Daisy - aw, thanks!! I hope you're having a wonderful day in sunny California. :) Take some time to listen to the beautiful birds! :D ~CC

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Cyndi,

      This a great Hub! Thanks for publishing it.

      I hope the people who don't listen will take the time to read this article and follow your suggestions.

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Haha, I like that "important" button-idea, Sally. You're a really good listener: you rephrased so well!! I completely agree: good listening can really lead to building strong relationships, both platonic and otherwise. Thanks so much for your insightful comment!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Rusticliving - I hear ya! There are so many times when I have fifty things running through my head: did I do this, did I say that, I need to go there, I have to do this...they're all milling through my head and I have to make the "voices" stop so that I can really listen to people. It's definitely a challenge sometimes. Thanks for stopping by and for the votes.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Excellent advice that leads to not only effective listening but also to building stronger relationships (just rephrasing what you so eloquently said to let you know I'm "listening" lol).

      Beyond the multi-tasking, which presents its own distractions, the state of having your next point ready to fly out of the gate without regard for what the speaker is saying is a death knell for positive communication. I've known too many people who would rather be right than educated and informed.

      Excellent information. Up and useful...too bad "important" isn't one of the rating choices.

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Elizabeth Rayen 5 years ago from California

      Great Hub. There are times when I have had to really focus on the person and not let any distraction come between us, so they would know that I am really interested and listening to what they have to say. Sometimes it can be harder than others, especially when you really want to go somewhere else and have an icecream! Voted up and across!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      lol @ albertsj. :D

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      Lol Your too much. : D So ya' miss a few.... : )

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Haha, albertsj, I've skipped to page 130. 1, 2, skip a few...99, 100...haha.

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      You're too funny. ; ) Yeah, sounds real interesting you must love page 30 since you've been nursing it for 2 weeks. ; ) Maybe you should just skip that page? : D

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Oh, yes, I've been reading Hot, Flat and Crowded for a month - it's really interesting, but I read it at bedtime, so I've been stuck on page 30 for two weeks. And no, I do NOT remember reading page 30 everyday for 14 days. Hahaha, albertsj. You crack me up. ;)

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      I'm sorry I wasn;t paying attention when I was reading ... ; D Oh, forget the detailed book late at night. I'd have to read it all over again in the morning. I'd get nothing out of it. : )

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      I hear you about the reading part, too, albertsj. Hehehe. It's especially bad when it's late at night, and I'm tired and I'm trying to read a VERY detailed book. :D

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      Lol. Aw, thanks. I just always find some kind of value in a lot of thses hubs. This one is great because I can keep going back & refreshing myself...since I don't pay much attention when I read, either... ; )

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      albertsj - what was that again? Hehehe. I appreciate your stopping by - I just love your insightful comments. :) I agree with Ardie - I'm in the same boat, which is the whole reason I made this hub. My husband accuses me of being off in outer space and not listening waaay too much. :D

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      I thibj we're all like Ardie, in a sense. I guess when it becomes's extreme, that's when it's time to question it. When we have no idea what the other person is saying, and don't care, is when we have to ask ouurselce if it's us, or them. If it ends up being that way with everyone, well then, maybe we need to look with in ourselves. I have to go practice "Listening", not just hearing... What??? ; )

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Aw, Ardie! You really are Supermom! :) You're amazing and I'm willing to bet that your kiddos think you're a great listener! Thanks so much for stopping by - always great to see you!

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 5 years ago from Neverland

      I WAS a really decent listener until I started taking on too much. Now I am always distracted and lost in thought. Im thinking about the next thing I should be doing instead of the person who is talking. Reading your Hub makes me realize I need to reduce my responsibilities and fix my priorities. Thank you!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Brian - I appreciate your comments. I know this is a skill I'm always working on for sure. Thanks for the votes, too!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      albertsj - I have to look back at this from time to time to remind myself of that all-important skill. Thank you so much for your insightful comment. :)

    • BRIAN SLATER profile image

      Brian Slater 5 years ago from England

      Thanks for reminding us. We should all do more listening and less speaking and these techniques are quite useful. Voted up :)

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 5 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      This was great. I learned a lot of this a while back, & it's true. It almost enriches your communication skills as well as what you take out of ths comvo. But believe me I could still use practice. Very useful hub. Voted up and useful

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      peoplepower73 - thanks for SHARING and stopping by. Now, if I could only just take my own advice, I'll be good to go. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Thanks, Brett. Yeah, this is one I'm still working on, too. Buzz, buzz...yep, I can relate. Thank you, too, for SHARING. :)

    • peoplepower73 profile image

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Great advice. Thanks for SHARING these techniques for listening.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 5 years ago from Thailand

      Good advice, this is definitely a learned skill. It is something I need to practice, as I do tend to have a habit of zoning out while someone is talking, normally because there are 101 buzzing around in my head at any given time LOL.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Vinaya - it's interesting. The more I concentrate on keeping my mouth shut, the more I seem to learn and understand. It's really a neat experience. Thank you for stopping by.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      Most of the time people are interested only about expressing their ideas, they are impatient listeners. Your analysis is very interesting. Thanks for sharing wonderful advice and tips.

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Thank you, angelladywriter. I really feel like listening is such an important skill to have - whether you're a teacher, counselor, or even a bartender! So often, people really just want to feel "listened to" and once they feel they have a voice, great things can happen.

    • profile image

      angelladywriter 5 years ago

      These are very good suggestions. I have also noticed that when I am in my ministry, listening carefully and observing is vital in order to demonstrate personal interest in others. Good job on this hub.

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      myrtle - thanks for stopping by! Welcome to HubPages. :)

      Sheila - thank you, too, for stopping by. :) It was fun writing this hub.

    • Sheila Lee profile image

      Sheila Lee 5 years ago from Canada

      myrtle - good one! I like that.

    • myrtle McKinley profile image

      myrtle McKinley 5 years ago

      Hi cclitgirl

      Isn't listening the reason God gave us two ears and only one mouth. Great hub and so informative. I am new to hubbing and would appreciate you checking me out.

      Regards, Myrtle

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Thanks, pseudo-scripto14. *blush* I really appreciate your feedback. I would think that in call centers, you would be really tired at the end of a shift because of the immense concentration and depth of listening required. Glad I could help with that giving you more ideas. :)

    • pseudo-scripto14 profile image

      pseudo-scripto14 5 years ago from Philippines

      What a reminder! I used to be unattentive but when I entered the intricate world of call center industry the nonchalant days of not listening well are over. It's complex in a sense that yuou have to multi-task (typing while listening with their issues) so if you overheard the client or you're not listening at all then you're in trouble because you wouldn't be able to resolve client's concern hence, you will be reprimanded or impose demerits. So thanks for another inputs coz I need that. It's different when you are talking in person than in phone that sometimes I forgot I'm talking to a real person and not in virtual communication. Tremendous hub! How prolific you are! Keep it up!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      butch - yep, you're right...but it still helps to try, no? :)

      Thanks, Sheila. I appreciate your kind words. :)

    • Sheila Lee profile image

      Sheila Lee 5 years ago from Canada

      Great hub! I've already been practicing listening whenever someone is talking to me. But I think it's great to reiterate these points because they really do help! Kudos!

    • butchbeatingo profile image

      butchbeatingo 5 years ago

      sometime a person could not listen because 1. already know the subject 2. deep problem 3. not like the speaker at all

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Thanks, GoGreenTips. :) Yeah, I always hear so many people say, "I want to be a better listener," so I tried to share what I'd learned along the way. :)

    • GoGreenTips profile image

      Greg Johnson 5 years ago from Indianapolis

      Great Hub! on listening. It always a good idea to stop what you're doing and just listen. All too frequently in today's faced paced world we are always doing something else.

      Asking questions is another way to make what the other person has said feel good about what they said.