1. Listen actively and patiently. Listening is a lost art. Often, when we’re in a conversation, we’re planning ahead to our next comment rather than truly hearing the other person. If you find your mind jumping ahead to craft a response, hold that thought. Truly allow yourself to focus on what your partner is trying to convey.
2. Ask clarifying questions. Sometimes we can make assumptions about what our partner means, filtered through the lens of our own feelings, thoughts and emotions. We all know what trouble we can get into by assuming. If you’re not 100% clear on what your partner is saying, ask. You’ll not only learn something new about your partner’s way of thinking, but you’ll also show that you’re interested, present, and listening.
3. Confirm your understanding of what your partner has relayed. Once you think that you have a handle on your partner’s message, repeat it back to them in your words to double check that you have it right. You’d be surprised at how often there’s something that needs to be clarified to get your partner’s meaning crystal clear.
4. Decrease your defensiveness. This is the toughest part. When our partner is expressing something that we don’t agree with, it can raise up our defenses, and fast. Recognize this tendency and work to put down that shield. Then, go back to active listening, asking clarifying questions, and confirming your understanding of your partner’s point of view. Validating your partner’s reality does not mean that you are agreeing with them, but it can go a long way to bridging the communication gap.
While this technique is essential for building strong communication skills with an intimate partner, it is also highly effective in relationships with family members, friends and co-workers. Give it a try this week and see the positive effect it has on your relationships.