The number one thing I hear as a counselor is that couples want to improve their communication. They want to be understood and be able to talk to their partners in a healthier way. In order for that to happen, however, couples first have to learn how to listen. Keep in mind that communication is something learned, but not in a classroom. It’s not like algebra or anything, but it might as well be! Our communication patterns are something we pick up from our environment and experiences, and many times we find ourselves communicating on “autopilot.”

Maybe it’s the time you yell back at your kids just the way your mom did. Or maybe you find yourself receding to your man cave to avoid conflict, because this is what you saw your father do. Now we aren’t saying this is how we learn ALL communication, but the point is the way we communicate is often reactionary and based on our life experience, not on an actual skill that is taught, like driving or riding a bike. The way we begin to alter this is to challenge our previous way of doing things, and by adopting new behaviors that represent HEALTHY communication.

So first, we are going to talk about listening, probably the first GOOD step to bettering communication. We all get caught up in our own responses when communicating and “winning the argument,” and many times we miss the real message that is being conveyed. You can’t communicate well with your partner, spouse, or boss if you aren’t really hearing what they are saying! My husband has always said, we were born with two ears and one mouth because we should listen more than we speak.

Here are 5 simple tips and reminders that will make you are a better listener.

#1 Listen without filters.

Often times when we “listen,” we filter what we hear through our own lens and perspective. Ever heard the phrase “you hear what you want to hear?” Instead of making your own assumption about what a person is saying, really try to hear the message they are trying to convey. Get out of your own head! This takes effort and can be frustrating at times, but it’s worth it to step outside yourself and truly hear what the other person is saying.

# 2 Learn to paraphrase.

The best way to show someone you are listening and understand is to paraphrase. It may sound silly, but reflecting back what a person is saying shows you are actively trying to understand them. For instance, if I tell my husband, “I was so frustrated at work today because my schedule was so busy and I felt so behind.” My husband could say “I can see that you felt overwhelmed and upset that your work piled up.” With that statement, he is demonstrating actual understanding, instead of simply replying “that sound tough,” which doesn’t deliver much depth. Keep in mind that paraphrasing is not saying exactly what the other person says in their exact words. This skill can take practice, but is very helpful when communicating.

#3 Listening does not mean agreeing.

Just because you paraphrase, or state someone else’s words, doesn’t mean you have to agree with their thought processes or emotions. You might think what your partner is saying makes no sense, is illogical, or even wrong, but the goal is UNDERSTANDING THEIR PERSPECTIVE. Once you’ve demonstrated understanding towards their expressions, you can then explain your own thoughts and feelings on the matter.

#4 Dig deeper.

One of the best ways to improve your skills is to listen for emotions, and not solutions. Listening doesn’t mean solving all the time. Instead, it’s the ability to hear the underlying concerns and feelings a person is going through. Listen for hurt, fear, sadness, joy, anger, or disappointment.

#5 Remove distractions.

This one seems obvious, but in a world full of Facebook, Snap Chat, Instagram, Twitter, televisions, phones, reminders, etc., we all are pulled in so many different directions. There is pressure to respond right away, read the next news story, and fix everything right then and there. When you listen, it is VITAL to be in the moment and free from distractions. It’s not a good look when you say you are listening but simultaneously posting to Facebook. Pay attention, make good eye contact, and goodness sake put down your phone!

If you are still finding yourself or your partner struggling to communicate even after practicing these steps and want further assistance Life Counseling Solutions is here to help! Call us today at 407-622-1770 to receive relationship coaching to increase intimacy and decrease communication barriers. Or, book your first appointment here with our one of our relationship experts. 

lauren headshotAbout the Author: Lauren’s mission is to help individuals, couples, and children become the most genuine, happy, and fulfilled versions of themselves. She also specializes in counseling children experiencing loss, divorce, blending of families, and low self-esteem. As a step mom and wife, Lauren finds that from her own experiences she has grown to understand the challenges associated with  changing families and wants to assist other families, couples, and children. See Lauren’s full bio.