Let Them Know

It seems that listening has become a lost art in our society, even in our marriages and our families. Instead of listening, people seem to focus on asserting their opinion or defending their perspective. In the process, divisiveness deepens, a divisiveness that not only threatens our communities but our marriages and families as well.

Effective communication, on the other hand, is more than simply telling my side of the story or asserting my talking points louder than the other guy. Effective communication happens when people share information and stories, when those on both sides of the conversation feel safe to express themselves AND feel heard and understood by those involved in the conversation. In fact, assuring the other person feels listened to and understood may represent the very foundation on which effective communication is built. This is true in families as well.

How can you make sure the person you’re talking with feels like you have listened, heard, and understood them?

  1. Give the person talking your full attention with the sole purpose of understanding their perspective. Make eye contact. Ask clarifying questions—questions to help you understand their perspective, not questions to “make them think.” In fact, listen as though you are listening to the most important person in your life. In reality, when you’re talking to a family member, they are that important, aren’t they?
  2. Recognize that the person you’re listening to has a valid perspective. There are often multiple ways to view a situation. You may not agree with the other person’s perspective, but there are likely other people who do. And, even if you disagree, you may learn something important from their perspective. Be open. Listen deeply.
  3. Emphasize any areas of agreement you discover. There are likely ideas or values within the other person’s view with which you can agree. Look for those areas of agreement and explicitly acknowledge them.
  4. Restate the other person’s perspective to assure you have truly heard and understood. If they feel you have not quite understood, let them clarify. Set aside your own agenda until you can restate the other person’s viewpoint well enough that they say, “Yes, now you understand.”
  5. Listen to yourself and avoid words that tend to divide. For instance, “but” tends to increase the other person’s defensiveness. “And” does not seem to have the same detrimental impact. Words like “no,” “won’t,” and “don’t” contribute to divisiveness. Focus instead on using positive phrases like “I can see your passion” or “I look at that in a slightly different way.” These phrases take personal responsibility for the beliefs we hold without devaluing the other person.

These practices can be more challenging than they appear, especially in the midst of conflict. However, when you practice them, the other person will feel listened to and understood. They will know you value them and their opinion. More importantly, you will find that you resolve any disagreement more quickly and easily. Won’t that make family disagreements more bearable?

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