Some tips from the Five Love Languages for being a better listener, with my thoughts:
* Maintain eye contact.
Thoughts: while eye contact is extremely valuable, it can be overdone both because it can seem aggressive, even creepily so, and because it can be exhausting. In the first category, ask any woman who has ridden on a bus alone about how it feels to have someone look them in the eye, and not look away, for a sustained period of time. It is not always meant that way, but it comes across as aggression… and sometimes it is not uncontrolled. Sometimes attention is flattering… but not always. Sometimes for tough conversations eye contact feels like a threat. So while it is good to maintain eye contact with someone speaking to you after all, they are talking to you so they want your attention take care to leave the option open to them to stick up for their side of the argument without being too nasty. If you have to talk about something that is hard to talk about, give yourself breaks and leave open the option to be connected another way, like by holding hands, sitting side by side, or etc.
* Don’t multitask.
Listening with one corner of your mind, while doing something else, is half-listening. As a general rule, when listening to someone you love, listen all the way. Some of the characters in The Name of the Wind and the other books in the Kingkiller Chronicles have a phrase they use, “Listen to me three times.” That’s a good idea to hold in reserve, for when you are saying something that you want to be sure the other person will rehearse carefully so they can review it again later. It means, “This isn’t for you to respond to now. It’s for you to remember, and review carefully.” Most parents have a tone of voice that they use, when they are saying something they want their kids to store up for later. A related idea is the idea that religious kids are raised with, that they must “hide God’s truth in their hearts” or, in other words, put a phrase, and the attending thoughts and feelings, somewhere they can access them whenever needed.
* Listen for feelings.
Too often we hear the facts, and don’t acknowledge the feelings. There’s a joke about a couple, call them Honey and Sweetie, where the couple finds themselves awake in the small hours of the morning:
Honey: “What’s wrong?”
Sweetie: “Hm. Honey, I think I’m really thirsty.”
Honey: “Okay, well I’ll get you some water.”
Sweetie: “Oh, honey, thanks, but I can get it. I just wanted you to know how I’m feeling.”
* Refuse to interrupt.
* Ask reflective questions.
I like the phrase “active listening.” I need to get better at not interrupting or finishing people’s thoughts for them.
* Express understanding.
Perhaps just as importantly, though, is to express when you don’t understand yet and too seek clarification. Restate the same idea tentatively, or give an example.