So far we worked on developing an assertive style of communicating our thoughts, emotions and needs. In this exercise we will focus on several aspects of attentive and mindful listening and ways of validating what the other person is telling us. Interpersonal effectiveness requires that we acknowledge the other person as well as ourselves. Sometimes, when we are busy doing everyday activities, it is not difficult to overlook the other person's day, their concerns, opinions and feelings.
Step One : Asking Questions and Reflective Listening
Think about a current relationship you have with somebody in your life. In order for them to feel validated when they are sharing their experience, a good start is to ask questions about what they have to say in a way that you show you are valuing their experience. Be curious, open and interested. Try to focus on what they are saying.
While you are listening, try to reflect on what they are saying. You can use statements such as "I understand that....", "I can hear that you feel...", "I get what you are telling me...", "I understand how you feel."
What questions would you ask? How would you reflect on what the other person is telling you? Try to practice this in one of the next conversations you'll have and write your answers in the worksheet.
Asking Questions :
- What happened last night? I noticed that you were worried.
- Then what happened ?
- How did you feel when they told you the news?
Reflective listening :
- You must've been very concerned about that.
- It sounds like you are still thinking about it.
Step Two : Body Language and Identifying with the Other Person
Pay attention to what the body language of the other person is saying. Sometimes the nonverbal communication can speak much louder than what they are verbally saying. Observe their posture and try to see if they are open to talk or perhaps a little more closed. Maybe their body language says something different than their words. Try to check your impression with them.
Is there something from their experience that rings a bell to you? Can you recognize certain past experience that you had with some of the aspects of the story that they are sharing with you? It is common that we've had a similar experience that we can share so that the other person feels more connected and understood by us.
Body language :
While I talked to my husband I could notice that he looked a little absent-minded and that he didn't make eye-contact with me that much. When I asked him whether there was something on his mind he told me this story that happened while he was working. I feel like we connected a little better.
Identifying with the other person :
I shared a similar story where I felt overworked just like he felt today.
Step Three : Acceptance and Encouraging Participation
Sometimes when we are talking with somebody, we won't always necessarily find what they are talking about familiar and we might have a hard time accepting what they are sharing. In this cases it is important for us to try to be as accepting as we can and validate their thoughts, emotions and experiences. For example, maybe our friend is telling us about her experience in the romantic relationship that she is in and some of the events may be difficult for us to understand. That's okay, because it is a great opportunity for us to practice acceptance and nonjudgmental attitude. Remember that all of us are different and may differ in some of their experiences than us.
There are some cases in which you or the person you are talking to might feel disconnected, distant or for you to have a conflict with that person. Note that this is a normal phase that sometimes happens and in this instances it is important for you and for the other person to keep communicating and to keep participating.
Next time you are having a conversation with somebody, try to practice these two concepts - acceptance and encouraging participation. Then write down your experiences in the worksheet.
I tried reflecting on what the other person was saying to me but I didn't quite understand every aspect of what they were telling me.
It is always good to ask questions so that we fully understand what the other person is telling us. Try to be attentive and to not asking the same questions too many times. The other person will appreciate our trying to understand them better and it can result with better connection. Try to get in tune with the mutual rhythm of the conversation and be open and curious.
Should I be practicing these steps in every conversation that I have?
Many of the day to day conversations we have with people are of informative or instrumental nature. You go to the supermarket to buy groceries and you are asking where the milk is, or your son asks you where his favorite sweater is. Try to practice these skills when you are having a conversation where the other person is trying to convey something that is important to them.
I find it a little confusing to pay attention to both the nonverbal communication and what the person is telling me verbally. What should I do?
Try not to get preoccupied with whether you are doing everything right. Simply be present in the conversation and casually observe some of the obvious body language signs that the other person is projecting. You are also participating in the conversation and are not expected to record every move like a camera. Try to be more relaxed and trust your intuitive feeling.