How to Listen Attentively

Conversation. It’s a two-way street. Or is it?

For most of us, it’s easier to talk than to listen. The problem is, in order for any communication to be effective, we need to listen more than we talk, because that’s how we understand where our partner is coming from.

Talking too much and trying to assert our views all the time can be problematic. A good conversation allows each party to have an equal amount of time to express themselves.

For example, whenever Joy and I have a “serious discussion,” while she’s talking, I consciously have to fight the temptation to tune her out while I’m crafting up my response. The most common sign that I’m busy thinking up how to explain my own side is when I find myself saying, “OK, OK, I get it, my turn.” (link to What Not to Say) Most of the time, when I do that, I didn’t really listen to her, and instead just let her talk so that I can say my piece.

We haven’t perfected good listening, but we can keep growing. One thing we learned is that, even through body language and other signs, good listeners subtly communicate to each other that they are listening. In fact, they encourage and welcome the thoughts, opinions and feelings of others. People who listen carefully also show their curiosity by asking questions.

For communication to be effective, we need to listen more than we talk, because that’s how we understand where our partner is coming from.  
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Tips on How to Listen Attentively

Here are some practical tips to learn to listen attentively:

1. Maintain Eye Contact

Maintain eye contact for 50% of the time while speaking and 70% of the time while listening. It not only tells your partner you’re listening, but keeping your eyes locked on your partner also helps you pay attention.

2. Choose Good Posture

Do you know that the way we carry our bodies can actually affect how we feel? Slouching will make you look—as well as feel!—disinterested. Sit in a good posture, and keep your head upright and level. Good body language encourages disclosure of feelings, and it also helps you stay attentive.

3. Nod, nod, nod!

Nodding gently shows that you are interested in what your partner is saying and helps you stay engaged in the conversation.

4. Match and Mirror

Research shows that mirroring the body language and actual words of other person builds good rapport and brings positive outcomes. For example, if your partner is leaning her elbows on the table, you can do the same.

Mirroring also includes telling back what you hear. Note that it doesn’t have to be word-for-word, and in fact, most people appreciate when you’re able to paraphrase what you’ve heard. But inserting a word or two here and there that your spouse himself has used can be helpful.

5. Let the other person finish speaking

Do not interrupt, even if you think you know what your partner will say next! Before you respond, check to see if you heard correctly. Then, make sure that your answer really addresses the questions that your partner may have. It is perfectly normal to pause to formulate a proper response. This will show that you have thought things through and can give a better answer.

Practice Listening Attentively

Listening is a skill that takes time and practice to improve. We encourage you to be intentional at learning how to be a better listener. Some couples have found it helpful for the speaker to hold a neutral object during conversation, such as a table napkin or a handkerchief, to remind themselves which of them is currently talking. Try it if it can help you stay focused on your task as a listener.

Then, practice the steps outlined above. If you need more hand-holding to improve your communication skills, feel free to drop us a note, and we’d be happy to walk with you through one of our upcoming workshops.

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