5 Ways to Be a Better Listener

By Alyana Olivar for Belo Medical Group on November 14, 2020

One of the most important things we’ve learned since the start of the pandemic is the importance of good communication. Now that we mostly resort to online means of communication to stay connected, we can no longer rely on visual cues to add context to what the other party is trying to convey. Even video calls are sometimes not enough. Closer to home, where we try our best to communicate effectively with our quarantine buddies, it’s also important to know to be able to clearly express ourselves.

One of the ways of doing so is by listening. While being able to translate your thoughts into words is certainly an important skill to develop, good communication also involves mindfully listening and absorbing the message you’re receiving.

1. Avoid flooding and stonewalling.

According to The Gottman Institute, “flooding” happens when one experiences a “heightened physiological arousal during conflict discussions” where an individual can “feel overwhelmed and intensely stressed”. They may also have an increased heart rate to over 100 beats per minute. This limits their ability to hear and understand another person and can lead to them saying something they’d regret or didn’t really mean. Flooding can also lead to stonewalling or “disengaging and emotionally withdrawing from the interaction” by lapsing into silence. To prevent this, renowned relationships therapist Dr. John Gottman recommends finding helpful coping methods when you feel the onset of flooding.

2. Give yourself time to calm down.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the conversation, it’s is perfectly alright to ask for a pause in the conversation. Practice some breathing exercises or go into another room – anything that can distract you from negative thoughts and help calm your nervous system.

3. Listen to understand rather than to respond.

We’re all human. Instinct would tell you to “react first and think later” but a good listener would do that in reverse.  In a September 2020 blog post, The Gottman Institute recommends listening to understand, or coming from a place of curiosity and openness “to seeing where another person is coming from”. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re agreeing with them, but rather, validating their point of view and understanding the thought process behind it.

4. Know your triggers and boundaries.

It may be difficult, but it helps to let the other person finish explaining themselves before reacting. Certain topics or statements may leave you feeling defensive and push you to interject before they’ve even finished. On the other hand, a conversation can take a turn for the worse and end up being disrespectful. Being fully aware of these two things will help you become a better listener in the long run. 

5. Be mindful of your love and respect for the other person.

At the end of the day, the other person is someone you love and/or respect. Remembering this will help “separate your relationship from the hurt and anger” you feel about your current situation.

These are just some tips you can adapt in order to become a better listener. What matters the most is your willingness to keep strengthening and deepening your bond with the other person – listening is just the beginning of doing so.

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