Recognize and remove obstacles to effective listening

Illustration by Miles Huffman

Taking a child development class this semester was the most useful decision I’ve made at Chico State so far.

I entered the relationship workshop having innumerable issues with communication and trust and finished with a more refined perspective on relationships.

I gained knowledge on the art of listening, which is like hearing but utilizing more perspective and support.

Most useful was realizing how terrible of a listener I was.

There are twelve blocks to listening, which includes habits like mind reading, rehearsing, judging, dreaming, etc.

I’ve found that most people are guilty of identifying — the listener hears what the person is saying, recollects a personal experience that is similar, and then when it’s their turn to speak, they steer the conversation back onto themselves.

The person talking with this type of listener is like: “What? Weren’t we just talking about my husband’s car crash? Wasn’t I just crying? Now you’re going on about your dog? What about Jim? Can your cocker spaniel wait?”

Identifying can also take the form of “I know how you feel.”

That’s statistically impossible and belittling to the relevance of the speaker’s emotion. It should never be assumed two breakups, deaths or tumor diagnoses feel exactly the same.

I’m most guilty of advising, which is problem-solving without permission. If a friend starts opening up about issues and getting into emotions, I want to try and fix this problem, when in reality the friend just wants to let it out.

Working on listening skills can help with friendships and relationships. Empathy is a struggle for everyone, and making people feel cared for can be extraordinarily difficult.

Having bad communication skills cost me one of the most important romantic relationships I ever had. We entered two separate people, became one for a short time, and then circumstances and geography turned us into distinct, incompatible opponents.

If I had listened more, I would have known that I was losing her because of her need for reassurance and attention. I could have predicted the outcome of my negligent actions.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise when a new guy came along and charmed her, as the current man in her life didn’t pay enough attention, didn’t return her gestures of endearment and stayed out with friends so late that he left his significant other lonely and depressed.

So caught up was I with polar opposite issues that my distractions became my downfall.

With proper listening skills, like reciprocating emotion and indicating the listener understands the speaker’s message (and not focusing on how to relate), relationships can grow stronger and more durable.

Don’t remain tuned out of a partner’s messages. Learn to listen and save a lot of pain.

William Rein can be reached at [email protected] or @toeshd on Twitter.