Some people have trouble expressing themselves in ways that convey their real thoughts. Speaking clearly and concisely is an art form that can be tough to master.
But the inability to speak clearly isn't the biggest problem most people have when communicating. The No. 1 killer of good communication is lack of listening skills. Many of us simply aren't good listeners. Poor listening skills can cause grief at work and in social settings, but at home they can be the complete undoing of a marriage.
The biggest problem with listening is that many of us don't. The TV is on, and we only half pay attention to what our spouse says. Or we assume we know what he or she is going to say, and, instead of listening, we're already thinking about what we're going to say in reply.
One reason we fall into these non-listening traps is we think listening doesn't require us to do anything. All we have to do is let the other person talk while we're not.
Real listening, however, is a highly active, participatory event. As The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center explains, “listening is not a spectator sport!” Indeed, many communications researchers use the phrase “active listening,” correctly implying that listeners are active participants in the conversation, even though they say nothing.
There are several basic rules for being a good listener:
•First, actually listen to what's being said. Don't interrupt. Wait until your spouse is done making a point before you speak. To hear the full message, you must pay full attention. Remember, the words are only part of the message — research demonstrates tone of voice and body language make up nearly 93 percent of any communication.
•Watch your own body language. Rolling your eyes, sneering or turning away while your spouse speaks sends a powerful non-verbal message: “I don't respect you, and I'm not listening.”
•Eye contact is important, but how much eye contact depends in part on who you're talking with. Men tend to make less eye contact when they talk about important matters then do women. Women typically use eye contact as a way of connecting. Men use extended eye contact as a sign of aggression.
•Listening also means you've taken in the basic information your spouse has tried to communicate. Test yourself. When your spouse stops speaking, instead of replying, see if you can paraphrase back the substance of what your spouse has told you. Start with the phrase, “What I'm hearing you say is …,” then paraphrase the thought you've just heard.
Your goal is to make sure you've heard correctly. Good listeners are not quick to rebut or argue. They seek to first understand.
•Sometimes people don't listen because they don't want to listen. Replying with phrases such as, “You're only saying that because …” or “What you really mean is …” is nothing more than telling your spouse what you think they think. You're not trying to listen to what they actually think.
If your spouse accepts you're paraphrase, then you were listening. If he or she disagrees with it, ask your spouse to repeat the statement until you can paraphrase it correctly.
The ultimate goal of listening is understanding, not agreement. Disrespect destroys marriages, disagreement does not.
When you seek to understand your spouse, you're saying you respect and care for him or her and that what he or she says is important to you, even if you don't agree. And the ultimate good news is that, if you both really listen to each other, you have a better chance of coming to an agreement.
©2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.