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Life and Religion

Better relationships through better listening
Communication is the key to starting and maintaining healthy relationships
 
Published Thursday, February 7, 2013 7:30 am
by Chandra Clark

The quality of any relationship – whether it’s with family, a significant other, friends, co-workers or acquaintances – depends on our ability to communicate effectively. Improving our communication skills, improves our relationships.

One way to improve your communication skills is by becoming a better listener.Communication is a two-way street. It’s not just about saying what you want the other person to hear; it’s also about hearing what they have to say. Being an active, strategic listener shows the other person that you care about what he or she is saying, and can thereby improve the quality of the relationship.

Want to become a better listener? Follow these tips:

Consider the communication context.

The physical setting, time and location of a communication exchange may well impact its reception. If you have a sensitive matter to discuss with someone, it may be better to speak in person or by phone rather than via text or email.

Paraphrase/Ask questions.

Repeat what you think the other person has just said, but using your own words. For example, you could say something like, “So what I hear you saying is…”

This gives you the chance to clarify whether you have properly understood the other person. It also gives them the opportunity to correct any misconceptions you might have regarding the communication. Likewise, asking questions of the other person is also a way to clarify what has been spoken. Paraphrasing or asking questions decreases the chances of you jumping to conclusions, and it also communicates to the other person that you care.

Pay attention to feedback.

Nodding, texting, yawning, and giving eye contact are all examples of feedback and can provide some insight in to what the other person is feeling or thinking (no matter what they actually say). We can respond effectively to feedback in many ways. For example, if our listener gives us a quizzical look, we might rephrase what we have just said, or ask them if they have a question.

Pick up on nonverbal communication.

According to research, between 60 to 70 percent of our communication is nonverbal. There are many forms of nonverbal communication, including the aforementioned feedback examples. Tone of voice, body language, gestures, etc., can also shed light on the other person’s thoughts or feelings.

Be mindful of gender and/or cultural differences.

Research shows that men and women generally communicate differently. Men tend to focus more on what is said during a conversation, while women tend to focus more on the relationship between the speaker and listener. While men seek comprehension, women seek empathy and connection.

According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, all human beings have a need to belong. We achieve this sense of belonging through our relationships. By improving our communication skills through becoming better listeners, we can enhance the quality of these relationships, and thus, our overall quality of life. So listen up!

Chandra Clark is an assistant professor in the department of English and Modern Languages at Florida A&M University. Follow @ FAMU_LivingWell.

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