Tag Archive: communication

The Art of Listening

The Listening Center believes strongly in the power of listening.  (Hence, the name.)  Our Vision statement reads:

The Listening Center believes that active, respectful, intuitive listening by professional therapists, fitness coaches, behaviorists, and other health care specialists will ultimately enable and empower individuals to hear their own story and realize that they can make a difference in the quality of their life.”

The truth is the quality of both your relationships and your work will improve dramatically if you hone your listening skills.  In relationships, communication breakdown is often behind many of the issues people face.  While it is important to work on being clear with others in what you say and what you are asking for, it is equally as important to be an effective listener.  Everyone wants to be heard, to be acknowledged, and to know that they are cared for.  In work, active and focused listening will help you see both possibilities and the holes in what is being said to you.  A good listener is a much better business person than one who only half-listens to what is being said simply because a good listener won’t miss as much.

The good news is that listening is a simple skill to hone.  The biggest step you can take is to simply be aware of how you are listening.  Just focusing on listening better will make you an exponentially better listener.  If you find your mind wandering while you are listening to another, simply redirect your attention and focus back to the person speaking.

There are two main components to being a good listener.  The first is the active component: your attention.  You cannot be a good listener without actively paying attention to what someone is saying to you.  Actively focusing on what is being said, how it’s being said, and any non-verbal cues from the speaker are all avenues on which to focus your attention.  The other main component to listening is more receptive in nature and that is being open and receptive to what another is trying to tell you.  Very often our own judgments, agenda, prejudice, or assumptions block us from really hearing what someone is trying to tell us.  That’s why it is so important to keep an open mind and an open perspective when you are listening to someone.  For instance, how often do we get stuck in a communication rut with our loved ones, having the same argument over and over?  Next time, clear your mind of all preconceived notions about what the other person is saying to you and try to take it in as if it was your first time hearing it.  This might help you have a fresh perspective and open up a line of communication between the two of you that had previously been closed.

A final tip on being a good listener is a strategy that “double-checks” you to make sure you really heard what someone was trying to tell you.  Sometimes, even if you are a great listener, you might misinterpret someone simply because they are having a hard time being clear.  That’s why most good listeners will reflect back what a person has said in an effort to be sure they heard it right.  This is a great tool for relationships because it cuts down on the possibility of miscommunication and it helps to make both parties in the relationship feel heard and validated.  Most reflect-back statements start something like, “So what you’re saying is…..” and then you just simply repeat what you heard.  If you got it right, great.  If not, the speaker has the opportunity to clarify.

We will end with one of our favorite quotes about listening, featured on the home page of our website:

“I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” -Rachel Naomi Remen

Criticism & Relationships

Criticism can often seem like second nature.  Probably because we criticize ourselves so often.  Most of us are our own worst critics.  Criticism can wreak havoc on one’s self esteem, and it can be equally destructive in a relationship.  Does this mean you have to swallow everything your spouse/partner does without any means of standing up for yourself?  Of course not.  If you feel wronged somehow in your relationship, there is a way to communicate your feelings without being critical.

Criticism will find its way into almost every relationship.  It is a language we all learned to speak (unfortunately) at a very young age.  If it’s easy to criticize ourselves, it is almost as easy to criticize others, especially the ones we spend a lot of time with, like our spouse or partner.  It’s how we deal with it, how we address it, and how we keep it in check that matters.  If criticism has gotten out of control in your relationship, I would suggest above all else to seek couples counseling / marriage counseling.  More than likely, there are deep-rooted issues and patterns of behavior that would best be addressed with the help of a licensed professional.  If, however, you feel your relationship is healthy, but would like to nip criticism in the bud before it becomes too destructive, read on.

First, let’s look at those times that we criticize.  I heard a wonderful quote the other day about criticism:  “Criticism is just a bad way of making a request.  So why not just make the request?”  Often, when we criticize someone, it is because they are not doing something we would like them to do or they are doing something we would like them to stop doing.  Rather than using an attack mode of communication like criticism, it would be much healthier and much more effective to simply make your request:  “When you _____, I feel _____.  Could we please try to come to a solution together so this doesn’t happen anymore?”  If you approach it that way, it is much less likely to be received negatively by your partner, and will foster a solution that much quicker.

Next, let’s look at how we listen to criticism.  Listening is the other equally important component of communication, and it is sadly often overlooked.  Fact of the matter is, in the heat of the moment, your partner may in fact lash out at you with a harsh criticism.  Nobody is perfect after all, and we all have our bad moments, especially when we are feeling tired, or anxious, or stressed, or simply had a crummy day.  That’s why it is so important to not react defensively when we are criticized.  Try to avoid counterattacking with criticisms of your own as a defense mechanism.  “Well, I wouldn’t do this if you didn’t do that.”  Or, “You’re one to talk.  You always _____!”  Etc., etc.  It is futile to try to “prove” your partner is as “bad as you are.”  This leads to nothing but hurt feelings and raised voices.  Instead, take your ego out of it and try to listen for the request behind the criticism.  If it is unclear, ask questions to try to uncover it.  Responding this way will not only calm your partner down, but it will help you both come to a compromise / find the solution you ultimately seek.  Of course, again, on your bad days  you may not respond to a criticism as well as you should.  On those days, when you and your partner/spouse find yourselves in a criticism power struggle, call a timeout, retreat to your separate corners, and agree to resolve the conflict at a later point in time.

Depression & Relationships

Depression can wreak havoc on a relationship.  A depressed person can seem a mere shadow of their former self, often displaying traits that are foreign to who they used to be.  A depressed person may withdraw, lose interest in life in general, lose interest in sex, lack joy, feel overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks, feel tired all the time, tend to focus on the negative and be very pessimistic, and struggle with feelings of worthlessness and despair.  This is not an easy person to live with.  It can be extremely frustrating and emotionally draining to live with a depressed person.  It can be hurtful and confusing when they isolate themselves, pull away, and reject your efforts to help.

The most important step a couple in this situation can take is to seek treatment.  It’s not the depression itself that leads to divorce or break-ups, but rather the consequence of not addressing the depression.  Couples therapy is a wonderful option for those who deal with this issue in their relationship.  The therapist may also want to compliment the couples therapy with some individual sessions for both the depressed and non-depressed partner in order to address their particular issues more in depth, but the couples therapy sessions will help to greatly reduce relationship stress, as well as lead to greater understanding between partners and, ultimately, a strengthening of their bond as they face and work through the illness together.

If your loved one is depressed, here are some tips on how best to cope with the situation:


2. Educate yourself about the illness.

This will help you to better understand your partner and what he/she is going through.

3. Offer support and encouragement – Be there for them.

4. Remember:  Depression is an illness.  It’s not something one can just “snap out of”.

5. Don’t attempt to rescue them.

While you may find yourself picking up the slack in certain areas like house cleaning from time to time, it’s too much to ask of yourself to do that in all areas of your depressed partner’s life and may lead to feelings of resentment and anger.  Again, this is why seeking treatment early is so important.

6. Don’t take things personally.

Depression is not rational.  While it is painful to be rejected, scorned, or ignored, it is important to remember it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the illness.

7. Communicate.

It is important that a couple dealing with depression communicates with each other in an honest and respectful way.  A couple’s therapist will help facilitate this process and teach the couple healthy communication skills.  The unspoken is ten times worse than the spoken, especially to a depressed person who will likely assume the worst.

8. Take time for yourself.

Living with a depressed person is very trying and can wear the non-depressed person down.  It is important to take time and re-charge your battery so you can be the positive force your partner needs.

9. Offer hope.

A depressed person may see the world in a very negative light.  Offer hope in whatever form they can accept it in the moment – the love for their children, their faith in a higher power, the beauty of nature – anything positive they can focus their mind on.  It is important to foster that seed.

10. Love them unconditionally.

Someone who is depressed may struggle with feelings of worthlessness.  They may not like who they’ve become and they often feel helpless to change.  They may feel unworthy of love. Mistakenly, they perceive the symptoms of their disease (the lack of energy, the seeming laziness, the lack of joy and enthusiasm, the helplessness) as deep character flaws.  One of the best things you can do for your depressed partner is to see them for who they really are, the person you fell in love with, the person behind the illness.  If you can give them that gift – if you can see that person even in the moments where their real self is most hidden by the depression – you will truly help them get back to their non-depressed selves in a way that only you can. As you see your partner’s true self you offer him/her a reflection, a mirror, in which they too can begin to see themselves as they truly are.  That is a wonderful gift only love can give.

Listening is an integral part of communication.  So often we tend to focus solely on trying to say what we feel we need to communicate that we forget about the other half of communication – listening.  There is within communication an inherent give and take.  Even when we are communicating with ourselves, we must also listen.

We are all aware of how important communication is to the health of a relationship, whether it is a marriage, a friendship, a parent/child, or a sibling relationship.  Good communication is as essential as trust and respect.   You must listen to your partner in the relationship in order for there to be successful communication between the two of you.  Here are 10 tips for effective listening:

1.    Focus
It is important to focus attentively on what the other person is saying.  Don’t start planning what you are going to say next as the other person speaks.  Don’t let yourself get distracted by your external environment or let your thoughts wander to what you are going to make for dinner that night.  Actively listen with intent to what is being said.
2.    Listen with an Open Mind
Try not to judge what is being said.  Keep your heart and mind open.  If you jump to conclusions or search for the right or wrong in what the other is saying, it will prevent you from really listening to what that person is saying to you.
3.    Be Respectful
Even if you disagree with another’s point of view, it is important to show respect for their opinion, as you would want respect shown for yours.
4.    Don’t Interrupt
Constant interruption is very frustrating to the speaker and can lead to a breakdown in communication.  Let the other person completely finish their thought before you respond.
5.    Don’t Rehearse
Don’t allow yourself to rehearse your response as the other is still talking.  Listen attentively and respond in the moment, naturally.  It’s ok to pause and gather your own thoughts once your partner has finished speaking.
6.    Use the Paraphrase Technique
Try to paraphrase / restate what your partner just said to you.  You could say something like, “So what I hear you saying is…”  This technique will help you focus and listen actively, as well as reassure your partner you are truly listening to him/her and help avoid miscommunication.  Sometimes the person speaking may be having a hard time getting across what they really want to say.  Paraphrasing or restating back to them will help them to know how effective their communication has been.
7.    Validate and Empathize
It is important to not only hear and understand what your partner is trying to communicate, but to also empathize with them and to validate them.  This takes the communication beyond the cognitive process of understanding to the emotional level of understanding, which is very important in relationships.  If, for instance, the shoe was on the other foot and you were the one trying to communicate your thoughts and feelings, I know you, too, would want empathy and validation.
8.    Pay Attention to the Non-Verbal Too
Try to be aware of the non-verbal communication happening in the interaction as well, both yours and the other person’s.  Non-verbal communication includes tone of voice, making eye contact or looking away, gestures such as nodding, shrugging the shoulders, crossing the arms, and facial expressions, and mannerisms such as tapping one’s fingers, or fiddling with one’s hair or clothing.  The non-verbal communication will give clues to the emotional state of the person behind the words spoken or listened to.  Your own non-verbal clues will give your partner an idea of whether or not you are listening to them and your reaction to what is being said.
9.    Avoid These Common Blocks To Effective Listening
Mind-reading, judging, day-dreaming, advising, rehearsing, mind-wandering, distraction by the environment (turn off the TV, for example), trying to be right or find wrong, filtering.
10.    Seek Help
If you and your partner are having a difficult time communicating in a healthy way, couples counseling can be very helpful in facilitating that communication.  A licensed, trained therapist with an outside perspective can offer great insight into where your communication breakdowns stem from, as well as teach you more effective communication techniques.  Alternatively, if you are experiencing difficulty communicating in general – if it pervades all areas of your life – then it would be helpful to seek psychotherapy, also called talk therapy.   Your therapist will offer the same to you individually as he/she would in a couples counseling setting.

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