Communication issues are so prevalent in relationships. Every couple who has come to my office asks for help with better communication skills. The breakdown is something like this:
“Are you even listening?”
“Then what did I say?”
Have you ever found yourself here? And even though you give a verbatim recitation of the words said, it lands flat. Just because you hear the words does not mean that you are actually listening…and you both know it.
This article gives concrete help so that when you are listening, you are really listening. You are listening in such a way that your partner knows you are listening. You can listen in a way that your partner knows you are hearing and holding their heart. If you apply this help consistently, it can change the trajectory of your relationship.
Communication Skills Help
1. Schedule a time to talk
Make your communication a priority, not an add-on. I know, I know, life is busy. I get it. You’re right. But that’s my point. Because life is busy, you’re not going to have time to have meaningful conversations, unless you make time for them. Schedule a date, state your intentions to talk after the kids go down, find time to communicate.
2. Put away all distractions
[Sigh] I wish I didn’t have to spell this one out. Turn off the TV. Put the iPad away. Silence the phone and put it in another room. Don’t have substantive conversation while making dinner. Do not multitask during times of connection.
3. Throw away clock
Do not be impatient. Do not try and squeeze conversation into a 30-minute window. Be patient and let the conversation and the connection emerge. Slow things down to get out of your brains and into your hearts.
4. Clarify what your partner needs from the conversation
This is a huge one and one that took me years to figure out. There are times when your partner wants you to simply listen as they vent. There are times when your partner wants you to ask deep questions. There are times to help her problem-solve.
Your partner might not know what is needed at the outset and the need might change. And that’s okay. The best thing to do in these situations is to clarify. “Honey, I’m sensing that this is a listening time. If you need something different from me, let me know and I can shift.”
5. Full body attunement
Non-verbals. Sit facing your partner, not the wall. Make eye contact. Don’t cross your legs or your arms in a closed body posture. “Brighten” your face—raise your eyebrows, and express your reactions with your face. Don’t just sit stone-faced. Lean in slightly like you’re on the edge of your seat, that you are hanging on every word. Don’t recline in the Lazy Chair barely awake.
6. Ask good questions
One of the best ways to show your partner you are listening is by asking good questions. Good questions keep the conversation moving and help it move to deeper more intimate levels. The purpose of a good question is not for your benefit or understanding, but for your partner’s benefit. The best questions help your partner understand themself better.
7. Reflect back what you are hearing
Assure your partner you heard by repeating what was said. Give a summary. The summary is not merely the words said, but the meaning behind the words. In your words, summarize their heart revealed in the words they said.
8. Be selfless
All the focus is completely on your partner. In these moments, give your partner the spotlight. Let it be all about them.
These eight helps might feel like a lot. In some ways yes, in other ways no. Yes, there is an art to listening well. It does take concentration and practice to do it well. In other ways no, all you are really doing is giving your full attention to the person you love and putting them above everything else, even yourself, during the conversation.
If you apply these principles consistently, the flavor of your communication and connection with your partner will improve. They will feel fully heard and known. Your relationship will strengthen.
Previously Published on tenderheartedmen.com