Healthy relationships involve good relationship listening skills. Once communication breaks down, it is difficult to have any type of relationship, whether it involves a parent and child, a husband and wife, a boss and employee, or a boyfriend and girlfriend.
What's the difference between empathy and sympathy when it comes to listening to someone else? Webster's defines empathy as "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another…". The definition of sympathy includes "inclination to think or feel alike: emotional or intellectual accord…the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another…" Not a huge difference between the two, right?
In most cases, sympathy is associated with feeling sorry for someone, while empathy typically allows a person to not only feel sorry for someone but to understand how that person is feeling. In relationships, people often avoid feeling
empathy when talking and listening to each other. The ability to empathize with someone, however, can do wonders for any relationship. The following tips will help you incorporate empathetic listening skills into your relationships:
- Refrain from talking-Our first impulse often involves jumping right into a conversation before the other person has finished talking. While you might think you are actively involving yourself with the other person's problem, you may be limiting or halting that person's ability to communicate. Keep silent until that person pauses for a response from you.
- Acknowledge the other person's feelings-Empathy means you sympathize and understand. You can verbalize this by repeating what the person has told you and prefacing it with a statement such as, "I understand that you are feeling…"
- Ask for clarity-Sometimes listening involves clarifying not only what the person says but what he or she means. Once you restate what the other person has said, ask for clarification if you are confused.
- Remain neutral-Hot topics often involve raised voices and emotional outbursts. If you want to empathize, you've got to maintain a neutral persona.
Give and Take
Relationship listening skills involve give and take. In order to truly improve relationships, you may need to ask for help. If you aren't ready to take the step, however, consider improving your communication habits. Every relationship should involve give and take.
- Listen to not only what is being said but also to what may not be said. This may include fears, doubts, concerns, and even dreams.
- Listen respectfully…no matter how angry you might be!
- Don't begin composing a reply in your mind until the other person has completely finished talking.
- Start off your replies by repeating an overall concern of the other person to show that you have in fact been listening.
- Don't jump to conclusions.
- Be an active listener-maintain eye contact, and watch your body language.
Help for Your Listening Skills
For some, developing good relationship listening skills is difficult to do. Many relationships fail simply due to lack of communication. Sometimes, simply talking with a counselor or attending a seminar is all you need to do to jumpstart your relationship. The following websites will offer you tips and information on training seminars and relationship advice.