Often when I have the daunting task of working with couples (or individuals) about communication, much detail is spent on the messenger and his or her message. For example, emphasis is often placed on the way a person speaks (i.e- non-threatening, non-aggressive, etc…), meta-communication (the message behind what is being said), and presenting a non-judgmental message (use of facts and not so many opinions). All of these are important things to consider in order to effectively communicating, but I want to emphasize on an aspect of communication that is sometimes not considered initially; the listener.
In my professional opinion, communication problems often occur because of poor listeners. Don’t get me wrong, how one delivers the message is important, but if the receiver of the message is thinking about something else at the same time while the messenger is sharing a concern, what might the outcome be? Have you ever been in a heated argument with your significant other and while your partner was talking to you, you were thinking about how you were going to “rebut” what he or she said? Can you honestly say that you were listening to him/her or were you just preparing your closing argument to put them in their place? Don’t feel bad if you fit in this category, because most people are poor listeners, especially if they feel strongly about whatever is being discuss.
Poor listening will make healthy communication almost impossible. I don’t care how well a person articulates their concerns to another in a non-threatening or non-judgmental way. If the listener is not prepared to receive the information in the same way, the communication will fail. So, for all of those who like to defend instead of receiving, please consider the following:
Don’t assume that you already heard “the message” that your partner is saying. Listen to what your significant other is saying and validate what they’re saying by paraphrasing what you think you heard.
Leave your opinions (beliefs) out of your response, but instead stick to the facts (feelings).
Don’t interpret what your significant other is saying, because it causes hostility and distrust.
If the message is confusing or ambiguous, ask for clarity. Do not ignore or disregard what your partner is saying.
Seek professional help, if you still have problems communicating with each other.
Often we place the responsibility of effective communication on what the other person is saying and how is said. What if we the receivers of the message, take an active role in the communication process by being good listeners? I wonder how might the messenger perceive that?