Learning to Listen


Most of us have had miscommunication in our relationships at some point in time, whether it was with a parent, a child, a partner, etc. It can be easy to talk to someone and not give them your full attention, especially with our phones being an arms length away at any given moment. Many people may think that they can multitask and do both things at once. While this may be the case in some situations, it is nearly impossible to do if the conversation is serious. Other times, it can be hard to focus on the other person when you have so much going on yourself that you are worried about. The struggle here is when we aren’t fully paying attention, we can’t really understand what the other person is saying and we may miss big details. Here are four ways to practice active listening and avoid miscommunication or invalidation:

  1. Be present. Put your phone down. Stop whatever you are doing. If someone catches you at a bad time, communicate that you will need x amount of time to finish and they will have your full attention. You might miss important details if you are finishing what you are doing and listening to them at the same time.
  2. Ask questions. If you don’t understand, ask them to help you understand. Sometimes it’s easier to just let someone continue talking without asking for clarification because you don’t want to interrupt. You can wait for a natural pause before you ask, but if you aren’t clear and let them continue talking, you’ll miss valuable points moving forward because you’ll be thinking about that one part you didn’t understand.
  3. Listen without trying to fix the problem. If someone wants your opinion or help in coming up with a solution, they will tell you. Most times, they just want you to listen to what they are saying, and validate how they are feeling. Sometimes this can be difficult to do because you aren’t sure way to say if you aren’t fixing the problem. You can try summarizing what you heard to make sure you got it right. This makes the other person feel validated and heard.
  4. If you are upset or angry, take a break. If you try to listen during a state of intense emotion, you’ll be listening to respond instead of listening to understand.

It can be difficult to try all four things at once, especially if you have never used any of them before. Try focusing on one at a time until you feel you’re getting the hang of it, or pick one that you identify will work the most for you. If things are really difficult, and no matter what you do you feel like you just can’t seem to communicate with the one you love, it may be time to seek some outside support.

About Alison Silvius Casanova LMFT

I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, and I enjoy supporting people in finding solutions to everyday problems. I work with people of all ages that struggle with social skills, are affected by addiction, and have suffered trauma/loss. My areas of interest include cognitive behavioral therapy, self esteem building, improved communication in relationships, grief/loss, and more. You can read more about me on my page at: www.alisonsilviuslmft.net