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How To Become a Better Listener in a Relationship – 5 Relationship Experts Share Powerfully Effective Strategies

How To Become a Better Listener in a Relationship

“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”

~ Margaret Wheatley

Bryant McGill Listening Quote
Becky Bringewatt

I have heard it said that most people listen in order to form their next response. But most people want us to listen in order that we will understand them. As you can see, there’s a gap between the two approaches.

So how do you listen in a way that others feel understood and appreciated?

1. Give the person talking to you their full attention

Don’t text a friend or read a newspaper or wash the dishes at the same time. Just listen.

2. Set a time when you can give them your full attention

If right now is too busy or you’re tired and cranky, this might not be a good time to be a good listener. Set an appointment with the other person so that you can be ready to talk to them at a time that’s better for you.

3. Let them know that you are listening

Listening is an activity, though it is somewhat passive. Find an unobtrusive way to respond to let the other person know you are hearing them and that you understand. Great ways to do this include facial expressions, nodding, or saying a word or phrase that shows you are engaged.

4. Check for understanding

Every so often, summarize what you hear the other person saying, and make sure you are both speaking the same language. You may not be hearing what they are trying to get across, so be patient until you both are on the same page.

5. Ask open-ended questions

A true question is one for which you don’t think you already know the answer. Allow yourself to be surprised by the answer if it isn’t what you expected. It’s a great way to get to know someone better.

6. Have fun! 

If you’re not having some fun (after you get through the difficult stuff), it may not be worth doing.

Becky Bringewatt, MA, LPC, NCC – www.mantiscounselingandcoaching.com

Sally LeBoy

You have to set aside your own agenda and focus. 

This is actually harder than it sounds. When therapists are trained, the whole first semester is about listening. Everyone thinks it will be easy, but it isn’t.

There are a lot of things that get in the way of really hearing a person. 

Some of it is obvious, like a noisy environment, or differences with language or accents. Sometimes you are distracted by something else going on and it’s difficult to concentrate. 

Our mind is somewhere else so we miss out on what the other person is saying. 

I think the biggest difficulty is that most of the time when we’re engaged in conversation, we are focused on our own agenda. 

We are listening with one ear, while the other ear is listening to our own internal voice. We are getting ourselves ready to talk rather than listening to what the other person is saying.

In a fight, the tendency to focus on ourselves is more pronounced. 

We aren’t just eager to speak; we need to prepare our comeback. We are not in a receiving mode. We are in a defensive mode. I have watched couples argue in my office and often they aren’t even talking about the same issue! That is a terrible waste of physical and emotional energy!

One of the things beginning therapists learn is the art of active listening. 

One person is the speaker and the other is the listener. The listener only feeds back to the speaker what she hears. This doesn’t imply agreement; it just establishes that the listener is actually hearing what the speaker is saying. 

This goes on until the speaker is satisfied that the listener understands his issue. 

Then you can reverse roles. This isn’t easy. If the speaker is saying things that are difficult to hear, there is a strong tendency to rebut. You really have to manage your emotional reactivity to be able to stay focused on what the speaker is saying.

When people are heard they usually feel less angry. 

Even if there isn’t agreement, people want to know that you care enough to listen. Listening is a form of validation. It says, “You are important to me; I am interested in you. I may not agree with you, but I respect your point of view.”

I am always surprised at how therapeutic it is to be heard. 

Many people have never felt heard in their entire lives. Learning the art of listening is a huge step towards forming deep and lasting relationships. It is respectful to listen, just as not listening is perceived as disrespectful.

Next time you are engaged in a conversation observe yourself. 

See if you are really listening or if you are looking for the first opportunity to switch the focus to you. Try to manage that tendency and show real genuine interest in your partner. You will experience less conflict and more connection in all of your relationships.

Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com

Dr. Deborah Cox

Don’t try to fix it.

Men get saddled with this stereotype all the time: The Fixer, Mr. Fix-It. We tend to think men are more likely to Solve us out of our feelings. But I notice more women having the same tendency these days. Especially when we’re anxious.

Fixing misses the point. It communicates a belief in the speaker’s incompetence. 

It races past the subtle nuances of meaning in the speaker’s narrative. It says to the person – Yes, yes, but I know what’s really important. 

Fixing places extra distance between us. 

It leaves the speaker feeling cold and alone. It stops them from exploring the breadth and depth of their feelings. It blocks intimacy.

But Fixing comes from a place of good intentions. 

We get triggered to Fix by some old memory of trauma or difficulty that taught us to try, frantically, to stop another person’s trouble. 

We don’t even remember why we feel so compelled to offer suggestions. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Make their problem go away? Be helpful????

No. Helping doesn’t help. Just hear. Follow the heart of the story. Slide problem-solving to the back burner. Here’s how.

1. Stay aware of your body sensations while someone is talking to you. Listen to their story with one ear. Let the other ear focus on your breath, your stomach, your heart. This will help you notice when you get triggered to jump in and solve it for them.

2. Pay attention to the emotion being expressed. Try to find it. Is he telling you he’s angry, sad, scared, worried, or excited? Is he unsure of how he feels? This one bit of information will help you understand the entire story better than any other element.

3. Offer encouragement for the person to keep talking. Say, things like:

I can tell this is a hard decision.
You want ______.
You feel_______.
It seems like you’re feeling _____ and wishing ______.

Just imagine how this will transform your conversations. 

Listen for feedback. Notice that you rarely, if ever, have to offer a solution. To follow the heart of the story is enough. 

Dr. Deborah Cox – www.deborahlcox.com

Amy Sherman

Communication is the key to healthy relationships. 

The less drama you have in your communicating, the happier you will be. What that means is that you are not assuming things, generalizing, being disappointed when expectations aren’t met and living by “shoulds” or “ought tos.” Instead you are listening to your partner and expressing your needs and wants effectively.

How do you do that?

1. Good listening skills require you to respond to what you hear by saying, “It sounds like you feel…” and paraphrase what you think the person is feeling. This indicates you heard and understood what was said. Be open to the other person correcting you to make sure they are being heard properly. This give and take dialogue opens the door to trust, clarity and enhanced mutual understanding.

2. Avoid interrupting when others are speaking and resist giving in when someone interrupts you. Instead, say “Just a minute. I haven’t finished yet.”

3. Don’t assume that others can read your mind. You must ask for what you want, or you won’t get it. Men and women perceive the world differently, so don’t believe that he should know what you are thinking, feeling or wanting.

4. Learn to understand non-verbal cues to tap into feelings that are not expressed.

5. Be empathetic, which means you understand how the other person feels and can respond appropriately.

6. Keep your sense of humor. Many times situations are so absurd that you can laugh about it, easing the tension and even anger.

7. Give yourself a time out if you are unable to remain fair and logical during a conflict. Always state a time and place to continue discussing the issue at hand.

Communication is a two way process that involves listening and receiving information. 

Everyone deserves to be heard and not discounted for how they think and feel. Understand that the opinions, attitudes and judgments of one person may be different than yours, but it does not mean it is wrong. 

To develop mutual understanding and respect, your insight and objectivity about how you communicate can go a long way to creating harmony.

Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com

Constance Clancy

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – The Dalai Lama

It seems that in our culture it’s easier to talk than to listen. 

When we are supposedly listening to another person, we may already be thinking about what we are going to say to them, or how to respond. That is not listening. 

Listening involves total focus and concentration on what the other person is saying. 

A good way to know that you were a good listener is to repeat back what the person was saying, something like, “What I heard you say is……” It’s a technique known as reflective listening.

We all want to be listened to and respected. 

We don’t appreciate it when someone does not listen to us, so we want to be respectful by listening well and acknowledging we heard them. While some people are not clear communicators, it is up to you to ask them to please repeat if you didn’t quite grasp what they were saying. 

People will appreciate that and even though your mind may have been wondering, it will be more appreciated that you asked them to please repeat what they previously said.

Listening is not necessarily an easy task. 

It’s important to know when to respond, how to respond, or just simply listen and non-verbally respond through nodding and body language. Try not to interrupt if at all possible. If the person goes on and on, you might say, “excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt, however, I do have to go now.”

Constance Clancy, Ed.D. – www.drconstanceclancy.com

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