"Don't try to fix it. I just need you to listen." Every man has heard these words. And they are the law of the land. No matter what.
It seems like heterosexual couples are going to have this misunderstanding sooner or later in their relationships. What is it about communication that makes it so difficult to speak to one another? I just attended a facilitator workshop given through Healthy Relationships California (HRC), and what I left with was a huge appreciation of those who can listen well. I also left with hope that more people can be encouraged to be present with one another's experiences in life.
It sounds easy, but it isn't.
There may be many factors that contribute to the differences in communication, whether it's hard-wired or socialized, somehow there are different expectations in relationships. I've read a few blog responses and it's interesting how many think we should just respect our differences and leave it at that. Well, where's the growth and attempts at understanding if we remain at opposite spectrums of communication? How will intimacy be nurtured during conversation?
Reflective listening (HRC calls it power listening) is an important skill therapists and nurses with excellent bed-side manners use with clients to establish respect and human connection. It is a skill couples are encouraged to practice to promote a stronger connection to one another. Reflective listening involves less talking, no judging or advice. It allows a person to be heard, and process a problem in peace. Most of the time people with problems have several solutions in mind, yet they want to be heard about the emotions involved.
Some tips on reflective listening:
- Nonverbal communication is very important. Do not underestimate how major your body language is to the person you are listening to. Head nods, eye contact, leaning forward, smiling or having a similar facial expression as the speaker.
- Keep jugdemental comments or advice to yourself! This one is very difficult. Even seasoned therapists slip up and give advice from time to time!
- Reflections or paraphrasing. Check in with the speaker to paraphrase about the story up to this point. It helps validate the speaker, and ensures you are not missing any important information. It can also help the speaker know if he or she is making sense.
- No parroting. When reflecting or paraphrasing, make sure it's not word-for-word. It can seem very condescending or annoying to repeat every word a person said. Keep it short and to the gist.
- Reflect the feeling. Having feelings validated is a big deal. A BIG DEAL. If you're off, it's okay. The speaker could restate the story differently to be more clear, or they can correctly state the emotion they're feeling. Either way, it's a win-win. One partner is being validated, and another is being a great listener. Both become closer in the process.
In respects to gender differences, many men who've participated in reflective listening reported feeling less angry, and had permission to feel other emotions. Their body language also appeared less tense afterwards. I thought the male responses were the most awesome responses--and within one exercise of reflective listening! Imagine how both genders could feel if more of us knew how to listen to each other more skillfully.
It'll take time. We will make our mistakes and be compelled to offer that advice, or judge without knowing, or judge on purpose. The goal is to have a closer, more respectful relationship with someone, and it sounds like reflective listening could be worth mastering.