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How to Use Active Listening to Improve Your Relationships

Updated: May 7

An individual looking to learn more about how active listening helps relationships.

As your life becomes busier and busier, your communication and relationships with others can quickly start to deteriorate. Communication can become merely an exchange of greetings and formalities without much concern or interest in understanding the other person or building genuine relationships and connections.

Active listening is one powerful skill that can help to improve and transform your relationships with others. Active listening involves more than just paying attention to someone when they’re talking. It is the skill of being fully present in the moment and of both hearing the words and understanding the feelings and meaning behind someone’s words. Active listening helps to create a safe space for people to speak honestly and freely.

When you feel understood and validated, emotional closeness develops. This, in turn, leads to building more trust, intimacy, and respect in your relationship. Active listening can also build closeness by helping to resolve conflicts caused by misunderstandings. People are able to clarify what was said and heard and you can find common ground to work towards a solution that works for both of you.

Below you’ll find steps to practice active listening. Give them a try and see how it positively affects the relationships in your life!

Steps To Practicing Active Listening

Take Time To Prepare Yourself

Spend a few minutes to mentally prepare yourself for the conversation you’re about to have. Remind yourself that your goal is to understand the other person’s perspective. This means that you must clear your mind of any distractions whether that is internal or external to you and fully focus your attention on the person who is speaking.

Create The Right Environment To Talk

Many people are easily distracted by interruptions from phones making noise, someone knocking on the door, or a noisy outdoor environment. Try your best to choose a quiet place to talk where both of you will feel comfortable. This will allow you to stay focused and relaxed as possible.

Be Fully Engaged

One way to show that you are fully engaged in a conversation is by making it visibly obvious that you are paying attention. Make sure you are seated and directly facing the other person and that you are maintaining eye contact. Using nonverbal communication such as nodding your head can show that you’re listening, engaged, and understanding what is being said. Try to avoid interrupting the other person or accidentally doing something that detracts from the conversation and signaling disinterest and disrespect.

Listen To Understand and Not To Respond

When you can give someone the gift of listening and engaging fully while they are speaking instead of interrupting with your own response, you are building a culture of active listening. Active listening means that you will focus on understanding what the other person is saying instead of formulating your own response in your head, making assumptions, or jumping to conclusions. Allow the other person to completely express themselves before you respond. 

Use Reflective Listening

Reflective listening means that you will paraphrase or summarize someone’s words to ultimately make sure that you are hearing and understanding what they are saying accurately. It can also involve reflecting what you have understood about their feelings in order to validate their emotions.  This allows you to show them that you understand and can empathize with their emotional experience.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

One way to encourage someone to continue to share their thoughts and feelings is to ask open-ended questions which require more than a yes or no answer. Open-ended questions invite others to share more and in as much detail as they would like. This shows the other person that you have an interest in what they are saying in addition to allowing both of you to explore what you are talking about at a deeper level.

Provide Feedback To The Other Person

Providing feedback is another way that you can show the other person that you have been listening actively and that you fully understand what the other person has said accurately. One way to provide feedback is to summarize the main points or themes in the conversation and ask whether your interpretation is correct. This type of strategy can help to prevent misunderstandings and will show the other person that you are committed to hearing and understanding them to the best of your ability.

Use Nonverbal Communication

Your nonverbal communication, including body language, facial expressions, posture, gestures, and tone of voice can communicate a lot. Pay close attention to what message your own nonverbal communication could be saying and correct yourself to send the right message. 

Also, pay attention to the other person’s nonverbal cues since what they are displaying can sometimes convey more than their words alone. If it is appropriate, reflect or mirror back their nonverbal gestures to show that you’re attuned to their experience and to demonstrate that you have empathy for them. 

Monitor and Manage Your Own Emotions

Self-awareness and emotional regulation play an important role in relationship building. If the ultimate goal is to have a productive conversation, everyone involved should try to respond instead of reacting impulsively. 

Stay calm and composed even if the conversation becomes heated or challenging. Avoid being defensive since this type of reaction makes it difficult to have a meaningful conversation. Also, do your best to keep an open mind and a non-judgmental attitude. You may not always agree with someone else’s point of view but how you respond to these differences will ultimately determine what direction your relationship may be headed.

Show Appreciation To The Other Person

Finally, show your appreciation to the other person for sharing with you. Some people find it very difficult to be vulnerable and saying thank you can mean a lot when you are building trust and respect for one another. You can acknowledge anything specific that they said that you valued or point out ways in which they interacted with you that made communication better.

As with most skills, becoming a strong active listener means that you will have to practice these skills and make a commitment to using them in your interactions with others. Doing this will enhance and deepen your relationships with family, friends, partners, children, coworkers, neighbors, and even people you don’t know that well yet. Incorporate active listening into your daily interactions and notice the positive benefits that it brings to your life.

How We Can Help

Interested in learning more about how relationship counseling can help you?

If you are looking for extra support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:

  1. Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation

  2. Or, you can book directly online with the therapist of your choice

  3. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxed life

Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:

Author Biography

A therapist for Catalyss Counseling.

Pansy Ayala is a licensed therapist with Catalyss Counseling and specializes in treating adults with anxiety, depression, grief and loss, and relationship issues. She uses a holistic, individualized approach to better understand who you are, what areas of your life you find problematic, and how you can reach your goals. She especially enjoys working with parents. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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