Empowering Effective Communication. Mark B. Borg, Jr., Ph.D, Grant H. Brenner, MD, and Daniel Berry, RN, MHA.
Effective communication built on the bedrock of effective listening is vital to the development of empathy in any relationship. Such listening is the primary tool for:
- Disarming the anxiety driving irrelationship
- Opening the way for intimacy
What follows is an unpacking of some powerful characteristics of listening.
- Listening is calming. When we allow ourselves to listen for its own sake, rather than to plan our comeback (or even retaliation), we learn to relax from the defensive posture we often bring into tense interactions. Of course, the change doesn’t happen the instant we decide we want to learn to listen. Our fears and investment in own position don’t automatically stand down, but
making the commitment to learning this new way starts clearing space so we can hear and accept others’ feelings and needs. And everyone knows what a relief it is getting things out in the open.
- Listening to others clears space in which we can hear and understand our own feelings better. Instead of getting protectively geared up for when they “finish,” we have room to figure out what our own feelings are and the subtle roles they play when we interact with others.
- When we listen to others it provides space for what, in irrelationship terms, is called “collaborative mutuality.” Setting aside our defenses and focusing on the other person’s needs in a non-judgmental posture activates brain pathways attuned to the other’s state of mind. This readies us to grasp not only what they’re saying (“cognitive empathy”) but also where it’s coming from
- Listening enables constructive conversation that clarifies intent and content and validates every party’s feelings. This improves buy-in by all parties, which improves collaborative decision-making and strategizing. It also improves our ability to foresee problems or obstacles, make use of opportunities, and improve our chances of meeting our goals.
- Listening becomes easier with practice. As it becomes habitual, the quality of communication and its payoff improves. Eventually, the ability to reflect on what is being said while it is being said becomes an indispensable tool.
- Feeling “listened to” or “heard” generates positive feelings, leading to better personal and working relationships and outcomes. Like improved listening skills, the benefits of feeling heard deepens over time for all parties concerned. This promotes more positive attitudes when approaching personal or work-related interactions, particularly interactions about which we’re anxious or apprehensive.
- Practicing listening improves our ability to understand our own feelings and reactions and how they may affect others. We become better able to pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues from others and enjoy conversation involving multiple perspectives. This improvement in interaction with the social environment is matched by increased comfort in our inner environment.
- Listening builds intimacy. In a way this is a summary of the other seven points. Over time, improved listening brings us closer and improves our regard for one another, whether in romantic, family, or work relationships. Taken together, these characteristics of listening can—and do—facilitate a process that empowers effective communication
Article previously published in Psychology Today