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Listen Up: 4 Ways to Show Someone You're Really Listening

Listening is powerful. Being listened to can make us feel loved and appreciated or it can make us feel disrespected and unimportant when our messages are neglected. Feeling like we are truly listened to can bring us together, while a lack of listening from our partners can tear us apart. Listening to your partner shows them that you not only care about what they're saying, but also that you care about them. While the importance of listening is clear, many of us have trouble actually listening to others.
My husband is an amazing listener. Most of the time. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely weeks when I've told him 5 times "we are going to X's house on Saturday night" and when Saturday night rolls around, he claims to have never been told about it. It happens. But for the most part, he's wonderful. He has great listening skills. This is especially good for me because I love to talk. I can talk about anything to anyone. So, for me, it's just fabulous that he's a good listener. When he listens, I feel valued. How do I know that he's listening? He looks at me, he gives me feedback, he asks me questions, he remembers things that I've said, and he seems to understand my train of thought (which can be a very difficult thing to do!). All of these things make me feel loved.

Listening is more than just hearing a message. The International Listening Association, a professional organization whose members are dedicated to learning more about the impact that listening has on all human activity (among other things), defines listening as "the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/ or nonverbal messages." Wolvin and Coakley (1996) claim that listening involves receiving, attending to, understanding, responding to, and recalling sounds and visual images from interactions with others.

What are some things that you can do to become a better listener? Based on the definitions above, listening involves more than just collecting information and storing it. You must be actively engaged in the conversation. You should not only hear the message, but you also need to respond to it. When talking with your loved ones, consider these ways to show that you are actively listening:

1. Maintain Eye Contact
Looking at your partner when they're talking is not only a great way to show that you're listening, but long gazes with a significant other have been shown to increase feelings of intimacy and trust in relationships.

2. Show Your Understanding
This type of positive feedback is very important when listening. Nodding and smiling when your partner is talking encourages your partner to share his or her feelings and thoughts.

3. Ask Questions
Don't let your partner, friend, or child tell their entire story if you don't understand what they're talking about. You may think that asking questions is rude, but in most situations asking questions while someone is speaking can show that you care about fully understanding their message. Saying things like, "what did you mean when you said X," can help you better understand the message. Additionally, asking questions like, "how did that make you feel?" can help your partner, friend, or child explore their feelings and bring the two of you closer.

4. Provide Positive Vocal Feedback
(such as "uh-hu," "that makes sense," "okay," or "yeah")
According to Wolvin and Coakley (1996), providing positive vocal feedback can enhance a speaker's confidence and generate positive emotions. Not including positive vocal feedback can result in speakers hesitating or even stopping to ask why we are not listening. When providing any kind of feedback, make sure that your feedback is obvious, appropriate, clear, and immediate (Barker, 1971; Daly, 1975).

So, listen up when your significant other, close friend, or child is talking. It could be the difference between them feeling loved or feeling ignored.

Barker, L. L. (1971). Listening behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Daly, J. (1975). Listening and interpersonal evaluations. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Central States Speech Association, Kansas City, MO.

Wolvin, A., & Coakley, C. (1996). Listening. Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark.


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