Many couples I work with tend to list “communication” as one of their struggles they would like to work on and real listening is a huge part of effective communication. So today I decided it might be helpful to identify three steps of how to listen to love. It is can be easy to feel unloved or unimportant when you feel like your concerns are not being heard. And, I’m sure you have been in the position before where you are talking to someone in a heated discussion and you sense he/she is not listening. When you ask if they are listening they say, “Yes! I’ve been listening to everything you’ve been saying…” Only then he/she quickly jumps back with arguments to what you have just shared. I believe being a part of any relationship requires extra focus on being able to truly listen to what the other person is saying. It may feel like a sacrifice in the beginning, but it is possible you will find how helpful these three steps can be.
1. Listen for what is being said
When in the listening seat, it is easy for people to switch into lawyer mode to try to find numerous ways to disprove what the other person is saying. It may seem more natural to do this than to focus on just hearing and taking in what the other person is actually saying. To listen and love, switch your mindset from the lawyer mentality to the curious listener mentality. Ask yourself what is it that your partner or family member (or whoever) is saying? Why is he/she upset? What specifically happened to cause him/her to begin to share what is on his/her mind with you? Have all of your attention on the other person, as hard as it may be…you will have the opportunity to also share your thoughts and feelings when the timing is right.
2. Listen for what is not being said
It can take a lot of energy and courage to work up what one feels is needed to be said when conflict arises. It is likely there are many times when the affected person shares just the surface level frustrations but may leave the depth of their concerns out. To listen and love, be curious about what he/she may be trying to say but unable. Body language will be helpful here. Is he/she crying? (What do the tears mean?) Is he/she looking away? (Does he/she feel safe? Does he/she feel ashamed?) Is he/she fidgety? (What may be causing him/her to feel nervous or anxious?) Asking questions about what is not being said can help the other person sense your concern and attention on getting to the depth of what he/she is experiencing. Notice again that all of your attention is on the other person.
3. Listen for what the other person is feeling
Curiosity has been a theme word for listening to love. To listen and love when in conversation, be curious to what the other person is feeling. Many times they will tell you and many times they will not. Are they angry, nervous, hurt, sad? When people make it a point to bring something up for discussion they are doing so with the need for some type of validation. Listening for what he/she is feeling will help you be able to validate his/her experience. Someone once told me “validation is not agreeing” and this is huge when it comes to listening. If my partner is angry with me for being irritable and I say, “you’re mad because I’ve been in an irritable mood all day” this does not mean I agree that I was irritable. It means I am validating that he is mad and that I have heard and validated his concern. Once those concerns are validated, it is much easier to move forward to problem solve together.
Beginning to focus on these three steps in your next dispute will already mean you are working in the right direction to listen and love. Your attention is changing to focus only on the person and his/her experience versus just your own thoughts and emotions. As you have read, this post was all about how to listen to show love. You’re probably wondering when you get the chance to share how you feel! Have no fear; the next focus will be on how to share your concerns in a way they are more likely to be received in a positive way.