If You Want Better Relationships, Don’t Just Listen
I’m pretty sure you already know what I’m going to tell you. You heard it a million times before. It’s simple.
But I’m going to say it again anyway — with a little twist.
I’m going to say it because you probably still don’t do it enough. That’s why your relationships with friends, family or your partner are not quite as rewarding as they could be.
If only you could implement this advice, rather than just reading about it, everything would be different. And I’m sure you can. It’s not complicated. It just takes practice.
To improve our lives, we often think we need to do more. Form new habits. Go the extra mile. But, as Nir Eyal reminds us:
“I discovered that living the life we want requires not only doing the right things, it also requires that we stop doing the wrong things that take us off-track.”
When comes to relationships, what we could all cut down on is talking. This would give us more space for listening. Because that’s what your relationship probably needs more of:
Listening to the other person in a way that allows you to hear them.
See, I told you that you read this advice before. But will you make an effort to implement it?
How To Listen So That You Can Hear
Listening to someone deeply means embracing their perspective.
It’s about putting yourself in their shoes in a way that allows you to see the story from their — and not your own — point of view.
How can you do that? Here again, a good listener can be spotted by what they don’t do. It’s mainly these two things:
- they don’t judge
- they don’t have an agenda for the interaction.
This is, of course, easier said than done. What exactly does it take to let go of your judgments and agenda?
1. To let go of judging people, stop clinging to the fixed image you created in your head.
We’re all very prone to it. Unfortunately, this hinders our relationships.
You can see it at play when someone asks you to tell them about your good friend. What are they like? How do they live their lives? What do you appreciate about them and what drives you mad?
By answering such questions, you may realize that you have certain beliefs about who your friend is. These beliefs aren’t based on the present — but rather, on what your friend said and did in the past.
When you bring those beliefs into your friendship, you listen through the lens of what you already believe about the other person. This can stop you from hearing what they’re trying to tell you right this moment.
2. When comes to letting go of your agenda, you must examine how you see yourself in the relationship.
In other words, what’s the role you’re trying to play? Are you a helper? A teacher? The superior one? The victim?
In most long-term relationships, we have an unconscious notion of who we are inside them. We easily fall for patterns.
For example, you may perceive your friend or partner as more or less knowledgeable in a certain topic than you are. Based on that, whenever you speak about that topic, you will have an agenda for how the conversation “should” unfold.
If you want to be a good listener, the notion of your role in the relationship needs to move to the background. Otherwise, it’ll be very hard for you to listen and hear.
Why Hearing The Other Person Brings Your Relationship To The Next Level
The next question is: why?
Why should you even bother making an effort to listen better? Surely, everyone claims it will improve your relationships — but how exactly?
It’s hard to create a deeply rewarding relationship based on what you want to get from it. Weirdly enough, humans are built in a way that we find the highest form of satisfaction in giving.
I’m serious. If you don’t believe me, ask Dalai Lama:
“[O]ur own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.”
Coming into a relationship with a curiosity about what you can offer, rather than get, is the recipe for happiness. Of course, I’m not talking about becoming a martyr and sacrificing your well-being for the sake of pleasing someone. That’s not what it’s about.
It’s about listening to hear and getting to know the other person as deeply as possible. This way, you can understand where they’re coming from. You may even become fascinated by the human ability to take perspectives other than one’s own.
When you make the other person feel heard, you also make it impossible for them to dislike you. You create a cycle of positive reinforcement and reciprocity in which both of you are more willing to give.
In this way, you build a foundation for a relationship that isn’t based on expectations. Rather, it stems from voluntary giving and receiving.
Become a Hearer, Not Just a Listener
It may sound counterintuitive — but to hear others, you first need to learn to listen to yourself.
I failed at this for a long time. I thought that if I only made myself available, I was a good friend or partner by default. I didn’t understand that how I resonated with their words was also a part of the process.
When you react emotionally to what the other person has to say, this is valid. It’s a sign that you’re in it with them. However, if you don’t know how to deal with your feelings in the first place, you may project them out on the person in front of you.
You may give unsolicited advice. Or get personally upset. Or start arguing with them. All that is a reactive response to what the other person just said or did.
That’s why, as a listener who hears, you need to be able to hear yourself in the first place. To hold space for the other person, acknowledge your inner world. Then, learn how to hold enough space for both of you.
You may realize that you aren’t so different from them in the end. After all, we all just want to be listened to, heard and understood. We’re human.