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Communicating is Not Optional
How to Listen So Your Partner Will Talk
Part 3 of 4

Larry James

Step #2 - When it's your turn to only listen:

Communication is the singular activity we all share. Expressing our needs, wants, thoughts, feelings and opinions clearly and effectively is only half of the communication process needed for interpersonal effectiveness. The other half is listening and understanding what others communicate to us.

Empathic listening gets inside your partner's frame of reference. You begin to see the relationship the way they see it, you understand their paradigm, and you begin to understand how they feel. It is human nature to want to work with, not against, someone who understands you.

Being inattentive indicates a lack of interest in what your partner is saying and possibly the relationship. Pay attention. This you must do for this process to work.

Listening must also be intentional. When you are not intentional about listening, you only hear about half of the conversation, if that much. It would be wise to assume that one-sided conversations do not work. Intentional listening can only be effective and only occurs when you listen without expectations of what will be said and without judgment of what was said or for what reason it was said.

To be a committed, empathic, intentional and thoughtful listener is to demonstrate a high degree of respect for your partner. Good communication is not about allowing your relationship to function on autopilot; it's about being intentional about saying what needs to be said and listening thoughtfully to what is spoken.

Practice this process and not only will your communication methods be improved, but the content of your messages will get better too. You will learn to talk with - not "to" - each other more clearly and effectively.

This process does not allow you to talk when it's your partner's time to talk. You have nothing to say, nothing to fix, no denials, no justifications, no answering, no explaining, no nothing. You only listen.

No smirks that may signify belittlement or disagreement. Facial gestures and not looking into the eyes of your partner are inappropriate. If you can only say, "Hmmmm," "Say more about that," "What else?" without an attitude, then do it. Otherwise, it is much better to say nothing.

The purpose of saying nothing is to honor your partner's right to express their thoughts and feelings. Listen. Show respect.

When listening, resist the urge to formulate your own rebuttal to what your partner is saying. This will only inhibit your ability to truly hear what is being said. Pay attention. Put aside your own personal beliefs, judgments, evaluations and notions about what is being said.

It's okay to take an occasional note while your partner is talking if you need to remember to spend some time thinking about a particular point or to let them know how you feel about it when it is your turn to talk.

Identify the distinction between merely hearing the words and really listening for the message. When we listen effectively we understand what the person is thinking and/or feeling from your partner's own perspective. It's called empathy.

Audioapathy - Empathic listening is a choice. Audioapathy is a word I coined to describe the condition often experienced when partners become apathetic about listening when their partner talks with them. It is a dreaded dis-ease that can poison your relationship. Although it appears that men are more affected than women, some women also get it.

Hearing is involuntary. You can be sound asleep and still hear something or someone, but listening is voluntary. It is an intellectual and emotional choice. It implies effective communication between the sender and the receiver, which hearing does not.

It is a wise partner who, when their partner is talking, puts down the evening newspaper or turns the TV off, makes eye contact and truly listens to what their partner is saying. Very wise. It may be difficult to listen to what they have to say, however, if the truth hurts - be grateful. When your partner talks, listen for the truth about what they are saying instead of going on the defensive. That only keeps you stuck.

It may take courage for your partner to express their feelings if they haven't been used to doing so. To immediately defend your own position (or to disagree or argue) invalidates your partner's feelings and usually serves to turn off future sharing possibilities. Listen for the opportunity to assist the relationship by taking responsibility for what you may be doing that trips their trigger and causes them to make a choice to feel the way they do.

Apathetic listeners breed contempt, resentment and often the person who desperately needs to be heard eventually shuts down. Don't let this happen to you!

Your own viewpoint may be different and you may not necessarily agree with your partner, but as you listen, you begin to gain a better understanding of the feelings of your partner.

The only thing you get to say comes after your partner concludes and that is:

"I listened carefully to what you said and I appreciate the opportunity to only listen. I will continue to do my best to be a better listener. Thank you. I love you."

This acknowledges that you were listening.

After you both have had some time to absorb the information your partner has presented, it will be time for you to both talk and both listen and reach some workable solutions.

When both of you have had your turn speaking, you must agree to get together to mutually discuss solutions to the issues you have together. Think about what your partner communicated to you.

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Copyright © - Larry James - Adapted from the book, "How to Really Love the One You're With: Affirmative Guidelines for a Healthy Love Relationship" by Larry James

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