Being a good listener is a gift to the individual and to his/her relationship. The converse is also true, not being a good listener is a hardship for both mates.
Intimacy between people begins with eye contact, followed by words of interest and invitation to engage in further interactions. One of the more alluring traits of an individual is the ability to focus his or her attention on the partner.
Being listened to and understood validates one’s worth. You matter when someone takes the time and energy to listen and understand who you are and what you think and feel. Being understood is a deeply rewarding and profoundly intimate experience.
One of the intoxicating parts of a new relationship is the prolonged hours of talking and sharing. New couples see this experience with awe and as a promising omen for their future unique bonding.
Being understood is pleasing and not being listened to is deeply disturbing. It is associated with rejection, discounting, isolation and a feeling of worthlessness.
Some couples converse often, but one or both may end up feeling unheard. What occurs in these conversations is what I call “parallel talking”: each partner speaks of his or her issue without acknowledging the other’s perspective. They do not fight, argue, disagree or oppose each other’s views, they just don’t communicate. They converse about the same topic, yet with clear disregard of what the other person said. The outcome is often sheer frustration.
Other pairs are composed of a partner who “lectures” for long periods, without being aware of the mate’s disinterest, fatigue or the desire to join the conversation. The listening mate often feels excluded from the speaker’s awareness or patronized and belittled.
Another pattern of poor listening skills is seen in individuals who tend to talk and talk and talk. They hardly take a breath to allow the mate to interject his or her ideas. Here too, the listener feels very disconnected from the speaker who is unaware of the damage caused by his/her monologues. This type of talker is typically either self-absorbed, has poor social skills and/or is anxious.
The self-absorbed talker is so enamored by talking about himself, that he believes that the conversation is interesting and entertaining to the listener. This highly conversant talker is like a one-man show. He may be animated, laughing at his own jokes, amused and happy as he keeps on losing his audience.
Individuals with poor social skills do not cue well to the nonverbal responses of their listeners. They are unaware, and sometimes very surprised that their ongoing monologues are not well received. They also do not understand that the purpose of conversation is sharing, not just an opportunity for self-expression. Sometimes they are unskilled in follow-up questions that are expected in dialogue and thus turn the interaction into long soliloquy.
Some anxious people need to fill every moment with words because they feel ill at ease with silence. To them, a break in the conversation feels like a lost connection. They may not even be aware of it, but keep on the chattering nervously. The listener is left out of the exchange and is abandoned. That person may choose to listen for awhile and may soon elect to mentally of physically leave.
Healthy conversation involves two interested people who listen attentively and provide appreciation and support to each other. Good verbal exchanges allow both parties to speak and be heard as well as listen well. It affords them a meaningful connection that results in a sense of well-being upon its termination.
• If you find yourself being lonely, lectured to, overwhelmed, and not listened to, you may be in the company of a non-listener.
• Kindly explain to your partner the loss of connection and intimacy created by his/her style.
• Describe and demonstrate what you consider satisfying conversation style.
• Request that a signal be chosen as a cue to your mate when she is losing your attention.
• Do not accept excuses from your mate about being a poor listener. It is a learned skill that can be improved with awareness and practice.
• Model good listening and affirming skills for your partner.
• Show appreciation for any changes in your partner’s listening and interactive conversation.
• As your partner increases his capacity for listening, your relationship will be greatly improve and gain a new measure of closeness and intimacy.
October 2, 2005