Probably the greatest enduring gift you can give your partner is communication – listening by hearing and understanding their views, feelings, expectations and challenges.
Lack of or poor communication is also a top cause for divorce. The problem is, most of us are pretty lousy at communicating. Especially in a reciprocal manner, which includes listening to what the speaker actually said and meant, and not what you assumed they said or feared they said.
I know a number of clients who imagine themselves to be great communicators because they’ve learnt a dialoging method in their work place. That’s better than complete ignorance. But here’s why a technique tried at work seldom helps at home.
Personal relationships and work relationships have differing agendas
Work environments typically cultivate climates of power and control whilst personal relationships should work towards developing a platform for sowing and reaping.
So if you are communicating with your partner with the objective of being right, with the need to win or to gain control, there’s a fair chance you’ll gain the power of being the top dog at times. But that high will be fleeting. What’s more, it’s unlikely your partner will feel heard if your opinions and rebuttals are occupying your headspace all the time.
Without knowing it, you risk outsourcing your self-esteem in your relationships, and when you miss its presence, you go looking for it in a controlling manner, often feeling compelled to rob loved ones of their self-esteem by bringing them down to buoy you up.
Improve Your Listening Skills
To improve your communication skills, choose to approach a conversation from your highest source of self-esteem. By this I mean, back your ability to listen with an open heart and to remember that it’s not about you, even if it’s directed at you. Then –
- Get rid of your scorecard. Lose interest in being right.
- Learn to listen first and reap the probability of the favour being returned.
- Narrow your focus and bring your full attention to your partner’s body language, their words, the meaning of their words, their use of tone and the feelings you are picking up on. Trust your intuition.
- Get out of your own way. Acknowledge, then gently suspend your own agenda and reactions as they rise.
- Remember the speaker is not an object that’s producing sound but a fallible human being who is trying to be heard and understood. (This might seem obvious but when we approach uncomfortable conversations from a child-space, we often treat others like objects – in other words, as if they have no feelings).
- Look beyond the obvious and seek understanding for the need behind the speaker’s words.
- Learn how to be really present. Keep eye-contact, don’t fidget and turn your body to face your speaker.
- Be aware of your own body language. Avoid dismissive eye-rolling, contemptuous smiles and sighing.
We all have the capacity to get listening right and to show this most natural, honorable way of loving.
Learning to listen well is a so-called ‘grounder quality’ that helps sow quality returns, like trust, in a relationship. Just today a client of mine put it like this: “my partner and I have moved from accusation to communication.” Spot on.