Lend Me Your Ear: Listening to improve relationships

Vache attentive

In our fast-paced, multi-tasking world we might act like we’re listening, but are we really hearing what the other person is saying? Here are three quick tips to improve your listening and deepen your relationships with others.

Set Intention

Usual: Often we find ourselves doing something else when someone stops by to talk. It’s easy to keep on doing what we’re doing (after all, she interrupted us!) while we listen to what’s being said.

Better: When someone starts to talk, stop them and say something like, “Can you give me a minute? I’d like to give you my full attention and I just need to finish this thought/task/etc.” Then give them your full attention. Simply setting that intention will dramatically improve what you hear.

Open Your Heart

Usual: It’s common to listen with an agenda running in your head (why is he telling me this? what does he expect me to do? what are we having for dinner tonight?). If you have a history with the person, you might even be making assumptions about what’s being said, filling in blanks with your own expectations, or dismissing what is said because it’s more of the same.

Better: Listen differently. As the person talks, listen primarily for the feelings and needs the person is expressing. Is she afraid, confused, curious, angry, excited? Is he needing connection, understanding, fun, meaning, safety? The better you are able to identify the other person’s feelings and needs the more you will empathize with her. After all, you’ve felt this way yourself and have these needs too.


Usual: When someone finishes talking, it’s pretty common to offer some advice, share an anecdote about how the same thing happened to you, or just plain agreement, “Yeah, I know, she’s like that.” While this may feel like you are helping or lining up on his side, it can have the effect of shutting the conversation down, leaving the person talking frustrated that they never really got to fully say what they wanted to express.

Better: When the person stops talking, reflect what you heard including their feelings and needs. It doesn’t have to be verbatim, but try to use one or two words they used, especially the ones with a lot of emotion behind them. Most people will then express themselves further saying something like, “Exactly, and what makes me the most angry is....” You’ve opened them up to go deeper.

What next?

That depends.

After the person gets done, they might just say “thanks” and head off. In my experience, once you start listening to people in this way, they become less dependent because they figure out their own solutions.

If the communication was about something you did or said or a mutual problem, offer to see if you can work together to solve it and start brainstorming solutions.

Or, maybe you just feel closer and more connected now. If so, tell the person youappreciate their talking with you. It takes courage to share at a deep honest level because it often makes the speaker feel vulnerable. Listening and holding a space where it is safe to do so builds trust and in turn intimacy, deepening our connection to one another.

Bobbie L. Dillon, M.S., helps people create Peace-Full Relationships--harmonious relationships where both people’s needs are met--as a trainer and conflict management coach. Check out more resources and trainings at BobbieDillon.com. Follow her on Twitter: @bobbieldillon.