To follow up on a recent post on why better listening is better loving, a new book provides some useful techniques on how exactly to listen effectively. “Just Listen” by psychiatrist Mark Goulston, MD, delivers on its promise to teach you how to get through to anyone, even offering advice for dealing with neurotic, narcissistic and violent individuals (we won’t go there). Most of the book addresses everyday personal and professional communication strategies, and offers scientific explanation to explain why they work within the brain. I’d recommend reading the book if you would like to improve your communication and connections at work or home, but I’ll summarize a few techniques in the next two posts:
The Empathy Jolt—When you are at odds with your spouse, take a break. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were in their shoes. Literally, what feelings or thoughts might you be experiencing? Sometimes a third party can ask this question to both spouses, and they will express a deeper understanding of one another’s true motivations.
Reverse Play—When you feel like complaining about someone’s behavior, set up a time to talk. Instead of complaining, apologize genuinely for the ways you may be contributing to the problem. Say you are sorry for anything you might have done to offend or disrespect them. This catches people off guard and often motivates them to act graciously.
Mirror Neuron Deficit—As we attempt to conform to the world’s or others’ demands on us, trying to win love and approval, we ache to be mirrored back with the same attention. Often, people feel they give their best, but receive apathy or hostility in return. This creates a deficit that you as an effective listener can help fill. Instead of waiting for your spouse or child to express a feeling or complaint, then mirroring it back, Dr. Goulston suggests taking the initiative to express your perception of their feelings, while offering a chance to clarify.
For example, when a man sees his stressed out wife scramble all evening to get emails returned and kids to bed, he might say, “You know, I was thinking today how frustrating it must be to feel so torn between home and the office. Is that how you feel, or am I reading things wrong? Then, you allow the other person to talk, without interrupting. When the other person stops, say, something like, “Go on.” Resist the urge to talk. Allow him or her to fully vent and relax. Do not solve the problem; just listen. This technique can even work in hostile situations and/or with teens. I tried it on my 6-year-old, and it worked great.
Be Vulnerable—Especially when things are at their worst, instead of getting aggressive, be vulnerable and share your deepest fears or concerns. Encourage your spouse to share feelings as well. This can create a breakthrough connection.