The Road to listening and being listened to

By Dr Erlend Slettevold (Clinical Psychologist)

Have you ever been in a situation where you are trying to tell someone something and they just don’t get it, won’t seem to listen or get stuck in endless discussions that don’t lead anywhere?


If so, you’re not alone, we all struggle communicating with others sometimes, especially when we have different views. This can be really frustrating, and if it happens often, it can make us feel increasingly bad and alone over time.


We all need to feel heard and understood, and so it can be helpful to practice ways of communicating with others that help us achieve this, both for ourselves and for the people we care about.


It’s often really tempting to tell others that they need to change, but it can sometimes be best to start by making changes for ourselves. Of course, this can feel unfair and difficult at first, but by changing our way of communicating, we make it more likely that others will soon change the way they respond to us as well. If you’d like to try, here are three steps to help you make a start.


Steps


1. Practice listening to others. This may make you wonder, “if I want to feel heard, then why do I need to practice listening to others? I want them to listen to me”. People are more likely to listen if they also feel listened to. Think about it, if you feel like someone else showed interest in what you had to say and showed that they understood you, would you not be more interested in what their thoughts were than if they didn’t? You can start practicing this by paying close attention to what someone is trying to tell you. While they are talking, you can practice actively showing them that you are listening by nodding, or some indication like saying “mhm” or “yes”.


2. Repeat back what they said in your own words. Once you have listened, it may be useful to check if you got it right by telling the person what you just heard them say and how you think they feel about it. For example, if they are complaining that you did not do the dishes last night, you could say “I hear that I upset you when I didn’t do the dishes”. This is often harder to do than we might think, and you may rather feel like saying “I always do the dishes, and you did not say anything about me being expected to do them last night!”. The problem with that response is that if the other person doesn’t feel like their feelings have been acknowledged, they are likely to follow up by showing you this, for example by getting more emotional and starting an argument. By saying what you have heard them say and acknowledging how they feel about it, you have shown that you understand. If you disagree with what they have said, they are more likely to be willing to hear about this now that you have shown that you can see it from their side despite your disagreement.


3. Talk with a calm voice. By talking in a calm voice we can naturally invite others to listen to us without making them feel threatened. This is not to say that others will always listen to us just because we have followed these steps. Some people will still try to interrupt us, or link what we are trying to tell them to themselves. However, there are a few things that can sometimes help when this happens. One is to simply say, again in a calm voice, “I would like to say something and hope you could hear me out before you share what you think about it”. You could also agree with the other person before the conversation to take turns at talking. Following the example from step 2, you could for example say “I’d like to tell you why I didn’t do the dishes last night, and then perhaps you could tell me your view and we can discuss it."


Let us know how you found these steps and if you found this helpful and want to know more about strategies for how to listen and be listened to, look up “Just listen: Discover the secret to getting through to absolutely anyone” by Mark Goulston, or do a search for ‘active listening’ on YouTube.

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