Posts Tagged ‘the art of listening’

  Roadblocks to Listening that Hurt Relationships

Written by Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT on . Posted in Blog

More than anything, we all want to be heard and understood. It seems like it should be so simple, but of course it’s not. Language is multi-dimensional and can get us into all kinds of trouble. Sometimes, it may seem safer not to say anything at all. Sound familiar? Not only do we have to choose the “right” words, we need to think about our tone, timing, and the result we want from the interaction. Despite our best intentions, the following are common roadblocks that cause breakdowns in communication across all relationships and disconnect us from those we want to be close to. Many of these responses are fear based.

Can you identify which roadblocks to listening you struggle with most and when it happens?

The Mind Reader

…. assumes what the other person is feeling and/or thinking—without checking in and asking. Frequent guilty parties: couples and parents.

The Judge

…. evaluates what the other person is saying from his own perspective, not the speaker’s. Frequent guilty parties: parents and kids.

The Daydreamer

….. finds it hard to stay “present” in the conversation and gets “lost” in past memories or future fantasies.

The Appeaser

…. is overly ready to agree without really taking in what the other person’s concerns are. Often this will sound like, “I know …. or “You’re right ….”

The Rehearser

…. is missing what’s being said because he or she is busy rehearsing a response.

The Screener

…. only pays attention to what’s important to them and ignores the rest.

The Counselor

…. is focused on a solution instead of understanding what the other is trying to communicate.

The Derailer

…. changes the subject as soon as they feel the topic is something they find threatening or uninteresting. Note that teens are especially skilled at derailing. Watch out parents!

The Debator

…. argues with the other person instead of letting them be heard. Teens can be great Debators!

He/she who Must Be Right

…. this person resists any suggestions that he or she could be wrong.

How to Change these Patterns

1. The first step in changing these patterns is to become aware of WHAT we’re doing.
2. The second is to be curious about WHY we’re being triggered to respond in a certain way, feelings that arise, and who most triggers unhelpful reactions (usually those who mean most to us).
3. The third step is to learn HOW to adopt new ways of communicating.

We often need the help of a counselor or psychotherapist to identify and understand our communication style. As I work with clients, I examine carefully how they make contact with me and the environment. Learning new vocabulary may be part of what’s needed to change communication patterns like those above. We may have had poor role modeling in our family and literally don’t know the words to use so we “have a voice” in the conversation in a way that keeps us connected to someone, especially when a difference of opinion or conflict arises. The good news is that change is always possible.

The Art of Listening

Written by Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT on . Posted in Blog, Therapy

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the verb lis-ten as “to hear something with thoughtful attention.” As I work with clients, I’m reminded repeatedly of how difficult this is for the trained therapist let alone those who are just going about their lives. Yet,  to quiet the minutiae of data—past, present and future tasks and concerns—constantly swirling in our heads, is what it takes to really listen and be present for another. And in the end, perhaps what we all want and need more than anything, is to be heard.

The truth is that even when we can quiet our chattering minds, usually our brain is busy either preparing a rebuttal to what we are hearing “Yes, but ….” , or busy rehearsing what we’re going to say as soon as the person stops speaking. As parents, spouses and friends the ability to listen with empathy is especially critical for healthy relationships and keeping open a clear and caring line of communication. What do I mean by that? Listening with empathy means immersing yourself in the other’s experience with the purpose of better understanding that individual. There is no other expectation. If you find you’re having difficulty following what the person is saying, ask questions from a place of curiosity, as though you were a detective unraveling a mystery. The beauty of this approach is that answers to our concerns come to us more easily when we feel calmly listened to and understood.

For parents I encourage you to try the following exercise 2-3 times each week. Establish a time when you and your child/adolescent have time together to talk. The goal of this time together is for you to better understand your child. Find a place where you and your child will not be interrupted by other siblings. You can even give your time together a name, for example, your “special time” or your “alone time.” This is very meaningful for children. For spouses, committing to establishing listening times for each of you is excellent for decreasing the level of tension in your relationship and bringing you closer. The three golden rules are: no distractions; neither of you can talk about the relationship, kids, home or work; and neither partner can comment on what the other shared. In your own words, just let your partner know that you’re interested in understanding them better, and you appreciate them “sharing” with you. A walk together may provide the perfect time for this exercise. You’ll be surprised by what you learn about one another!

Remember, listening is an art and like anything else to be a good listener takes practice. When in doubt about whether you’re doing it well, just keep in mind that the word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent.”