Key listening skills to deepen your relationships
Posted January 28, 2021
Over the course of the pandemic, rates of depression, anxiety, stress-related disorders, substance use and abuse have risen. People are feeling isolated and uncertain about the future, facing financially insecurity, or grieving the loss of a loved one. When faced with suffering, many rely on the support from friends and family. However, social distancing and quarantine have removed that option. Yet, all is not lost.
Yes, we can't physically be with each other, but we can still connect with each other through the many modes of communication delivered by phones, video chat services, social media, email, text messaging, or instant messaging. Certainly, an email or phone call is no replacement for a hug, but it can still meet our needs for connection. So, do yourself and your family member or friend a favor, and reach out to them. And when you talk, focus your energy on listening. And I mean listen, really listen to them. Don't just catch up, or complain about the pandemic-- practice deep listening. The kind of listening that isn't interested in surfacey chat. Rather, deep listening moves the conversation beneath the superficial to hidden fears, hopes, and sorrows. We all want to be authentically seen and heard with the eyes and ears of compassion. So, instead of waiting and demanding someone else give you that gift, reach out and give it to another person. Give them the gift of deep listening and compassion.
For some, the idea of deep listening sounds intimidating. It doesn't have to be. Deep listening isn't easy, but it also isn't scary. Anyone can do it. Deep listening is the artful use of empathic listening skills, which you can practice and perfect at any time. Below is a list of skills to enhance your deep listening skills.
Acknowledgment: Even if you disagree with what the other person said, you can still show them respect by acknowledging what they said and pay attention to what they are feeling. This goes a long way in promoting healthy communication.
Validation: Validation is achieved when the listener identifies and verbalizes what the speaker is feeling and why they are feeling that way. This requires a keen ear and paying attention to what the speaker said and how they said it. If someone doesn’t feel validated, they will feel unheard and hurt. In this case, they will likely repeat themselves with greater volume and intensity.
Reflection Statements: Verbalizing your understanding of what the other person said is very important to the communication process. This isn’t a silly exercise done for the purpose of just saying words. You are not to be tape recorder simply replaying what the other person said. Reflective listening means not just hearing the words, but understanding what the other person means. Then making a statement that shows you're understanding what the other person is saying. When you can do this, it lets the other person know you are tracking and comprehending what they are trying to get across.
Clarification: When you give a reflection statement, misunderstanding is bound to happen. Therefore, it is important to check in with the speaker to see if you are tracking what they are saying. This can be done with short and quick questions, such as “Did I hear you right?” “Am I following you?” “Did I get that right?” “Was there anything I missed?” These statements are helpful since you may have understood some of what the speaker said but missed a critical piece of information that the speaker can then clarify.
Summarizing: If the speaker speaks at length, it can be helpful to summarize what they said. This helps the speaker know if you are tracking and lets them know that you are getting the gist of what they are saying. You don’t have to capture every detail of what they said, but if you can get the “heart” of what they said, this boosts healthy communication.
Observations: Making observations facilitates open and honest conversation. When you can notice and verbalize your observation that the speaker is hesitant, nervous, sad, happy, excited, or confused, that lets the speaker know you are paying attention and that you are interested. Noticing tone of voice, body language, mood, and emotional expression helps the speaker feel safe and can draw more out from them. It can also help the speaker process what they are feeling more effectively.
Open-Ended Questions: Open-ended questions are questions that typically start with “how” or “what.” But they can be phrased in different ways, too. They are intended to help the speaker process what they are feeling and thinking. It is not intended to elicit a “yes” or “no” response. These are closed-ended questions. They are more about exchanging information than processing.
Reassurance: You can give another person reassurance by making statements that let the other person know you are interested in what they are saying, you are taking them seriously and you care about how they feel. People sometimes doubt the sincerity of the listener and feel the need to self-protect by either lashing out or shutting down. Reassurance diffuses that fear by letting the speaker know you care about what they are saying.
Deep listening is not easy. It's not comfortable. But neither is isolation, loneliness and disconnection. So, choose your poison! I strongly urge you to lean in to the discomfort of deep listening because at the end of the conversation is connection and compassion.