The Art of Listening

August 10, 2021

Listening is one of the most effective communication tools we possess to keep our relationships healthy. According to Julian Treasure in his TED Talk titled, “5 Ways to Listen Better,” we listen 60% of the time but only retain about 25% of the information we hear.

Listening is one of the most effective communication tools we possess to keep our relationships healthy. According to Julian Treasure in his TED Talk titled, “5 Ways to Listen Better,” we listen 60% of the time but only retain about 25% of the information we hear. The world around us is full of noise, and all this commotion bombards our senses. This makes it difficult to hear the quiet which could lead to filtering out the familiar, such as the sound of your partner's voice. Listening is an important pathway to understanding, and without it, conflict ensues.

How Effective Listening Strengthens Relationships

Gain Information. When we learn new and valuable information about our partner, we are able to know them on a more intimate level. There is so much more hidden behind the words your loved one says: inflection, tone, facial expressions, and body language are insightful clues to aid comprehension. We all know there are multiple meanings to the phrase, "It's fine!"

Increase Retention and Accuracy. If we listen properly, we can better recall important facts or messages our partner is trying to relay, which can lessen the likelihood of miscommunications and arguments.

Safe Space for Understanding. Within your relationship, a safe space of self-expression will grow with increased listening. If we give our partners our undivided attention, they will acknowledge we value what they are saying and can be trusted with this information.

Ineffective Listening

Hearing is quite different from listening; one is processing sounds, and the other is processing information. Ineffective listening interrupts the method of gaining and retaining oral information from another person. These practices can have detrimental consequences on your relationship with your partner:

  • Selective listening is only listening to the information you, the listener, identify with or are relevant to your own needs.

  • Insulated listening is the opposite of selective listening and includes ignoring information and avoidance of certain topics.

  • Pseudo listening is pretending to listen but not enough actually to understand the information being presented. Usually, the listener responds with a smile, nod, or minimal verbal acknowledgment but ignoring the listener.

  • Stage Hogging is listening only to add one's own ideas and opinions to the conversation.

  • Switch Tasking is listening without full attention while attempting to complete other duties.

Active Listening

Active listening is paying attention and responding to another person to improve mutual comprehension. The goal of active listening is cognitive understanding, which means it aids with information retention. Here are some tips to make sure you are actively listening:

  • Clear your mind and prepare to comprehend the message your partner is trying to relay.
  • Don't let your mind wander and try not to plan your response. Hear out what your partner is trying to tell you.
  • Make eye contact, nod as you listen, and keep body language open by uncrossing your arms and legs.
  • Silence is okay. Many become nervous when the conversation comes to a standstill and struggle to fill the spaces. With active listening, you are hearing and retaining more information, so sometimes people need time to digest the information before they respond.
  • In your own words, restate the information you heard to make sure the message was clearly received
  • Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions to encourage them to continue sharing.

Empathetic vs. Sympathetic Listening

Empathetic listening is identifying and entering another person's feelings. This type of listening is a great way to foster a strong emotional connection because any situation becomes a "shared" experience. It also aids the listener with understanding their partner's exact needs, and in turn, they can offer them what they are searching for. It builds altruism and strengthens trust because the listener's interest is unselfish and geared only towards the welfare of their partner. This form of listening leads the speaker to look inward at their strength,  ultimately leading to self-growth.

Example: Your partner loses a loved one. You know what loss feels like, so you become their rock. You are present. You listen and validate their feelings. Then let them sort through their grief with you by their side. You do not interfere with the bereavement process. You offer help and support if asked.

Sympathetic listening is feeling like or being affected by the way your partner is feeling. When you are sympathetic, it might provide solidarity for a time, but often it is short-lived. Usually, this does not provide any long-term benefits and is a self-serving way to lessen our burdens.

Example: You embody their pain and attempt to rescue them from themselves. You simply wish for their pain to go away because you cannot stand to see them in this state.

In other words, being sympathetic is wishing to rescue another from themselves, while being empathetic is listening, understanding, and validating that person's feelings.

Now that you are well-versed in the art of listening, embrace the quiet. Turn off the television, don’t answer that text message, and the chores can wait. Hear your partner without interruption, this creates a safe space within the relationship to exchange feelings openly and honestly.

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Cheryl Montgomery

Hi! I’m Cheryl. I am married to my high school sweetheart and raising 4 children in Arizona. I believe in Official’s mission to strengthen relationships and promote healthy habits.