Active listening exercises for more effective communication skills
It takes a conscious effort to reverse the vicious cycle of miscommunication. This process is called “active listening”. Other ways to describe it would be to call it “enhanced listening” or “focused listening”. The basic idea is that, as you listen to somebody, you pay special attention to understanding what this person says.
Now, what’s different from what you feel you’re already doing?
The difference is that, instead of just assuming you are listening, you actually focus on what the other person is saying in order to summarize what they said, in a way they would agree with. This ensures that your attention is on what they say and mean, as opposed to what you think they say or mean.
When you do active listening, you're agreeing to focus on a common goal: to improve your ability to deal with the problems in your relationship.
Active listening is very different from the way we usually deal with arguments. It will be difficult to make this kind of change when both of you feel very upset. Don't get discouraged if it doesn't work right away. Keep trying.
Practicing active listening, taking turns to hear each other before expressing your needs and wants, is a good way to train yourselves to experience the movements of a "slider" inside of you, as you shift between:
- a focus on empathy with your partner,
- and a focus on yourself.
You can get a simple "how to" in my book "Feel Heard, Not Hurt". By the way, you don't need to buy the book, you can get a free PDF download here.
The more you practice this, the more you become aware that it is not an either-or situation. You don't have to choose between either being totally focused on empathy with your partner, or totally focused on your own needs. You can, and should, go back and forth.
Moving the slider in each direction, and experiencing how it feels, is not a way to lose your sense of self, it is actually a way to strengthen it.