Good Listening is Foundational to Healthy Relationships

good talkTo be human is to be in relationship. We cannot survive without it. Whether you are a parent, neighbor, friend, spouse or a leader, you depend on healthy relationships to get along with others. The foundation on which all relationships are built is good communication. When communication is good, relationships are healthy; when communication is poor, relationships are poor as well. Regardless of whom you are relating to, good communication is the key to building and maintaining a healthy relationship.

Good communication requires you to be a good listener. Listening is the one communication skill we all think we are good at, when in reality most of us struggle in this area. One reason for our struggle with listening is that while we are taught the other communication skills, such as writing and speaking, listening often is not taught as a skill nor is it highlighted as something we need to be good at until we are adults. By then, we are so used to thinking that we are good listeners that we struggle to actually be good listeners. There are very few people for whom good listening comes easily. Most of us must work at being good listeners.

Good listening requires an emotional investment.  You cannot merely listen to the sound of the words you are hearing when someone speaks. If the health of the relationship is important to you, then you will need to give your undivided attention to the person. And giving your undivided attention takes emotional investment. It means you intentionally decide to stop thinking about you and start thinking about the person speaking to you. I will be the first to admit that this is still a struggle for me, although I have the best of intentions to be a good listener.

Good listening also requires you to give feedback in the form of paraphrasing back to the person what you are hearing them say; this can help clarify any misunderstanding. Misunderstanding is at the root of many relationship problems. Giving good feedback will require you to give the speaker your undivided attention. Too often we don’t hear what others are saying because we are distracted by our own thoughts and preparations for a response. Other forms of distractions include looking at our phone when the person is talking or looking at others passing by. Good listening requires making every effort to give undivided attention to the speaker and what is being said.

Good listening also requires you pay attention to your body language. Lean in rather than slouching and leaning away. Also try to maintain eye contact with your speaker, and avoid yawning and rolling your eyes. If you are tired and unable to give your undivided attention, it is better to say so and put off the conversation for another time.

You may be thinking that you cannot be a good listener. The truth is you can if you work at it. I still work at it every time I have a conversation. But it is work I want to do because I want to have healthy relations.

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Photo credit: Ed Yourdon / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA