How to be an Active Listener (long)

Yesterday I got in a long discussion with my SO on the phone where she brought up that she doesn’t think I seem to care what she says/does. When I asked why, she stated that I never pay attention when she talks about important things/confides in me. This was mostly referencing the day before, where she was talking to me (in person) about her friend’s blog on eating disorders and she was mentioning that she had one as well in the past. Apparently during this discussion, late in the evening, I fell asleep :smack: I had remembered her talking about something regarding a blog post, but my mind was blank. I didn’t remember briefly falling asleep either.

I feel terrible. She points out that everything else between us is great so far, except for the fact that she doesn’t think I listen/care what she has to say. She herself has a near-perfect memory and can cite the time, place, topics, EVERYTHING, that was said. She’ll bring up something I said casually four months ago and recite it verbatim :eek:

I don’t know if I can be that good at it myself, but I certainly think I can be better at listening than I am. Any suggestions? I was kind of blindsided by this honestly- I certainly have friends that bring up important topics, which I can remember perfectly fine. I’d prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt and factor out fatigue, ADD (which I have to a degree) and other elements beyond my control, that way I feel like I’m doing everything on my end. All I can really say is that many times when she is talking I have a hard time telling whether something is important or mundane- it would certainly be weird to just sit there with a steno pad and dictate everything she said to avoid possibly missing something important, but I also feel like there’s something I can do to improve in this regard.

Couple of things.

For one, parrot back to her her more salient points to show that you heard her words, and to reinforce them in your own mind.

For the other, get at the emotions of what she’s saying.

In your defence, I think this is fairly common among us males. Your OP could have been written by me. Including the falling asleep part.

**tdn **is so succinct as to almost belie the importance of what he/she said.

Every time your girlfriend says a couple of sentences, you say something like:

“So what you’re saying is…[insert paraphrase of what she said here]”


“If I understand you right, then …[insert paraphrase of what she said here]”
When you detect an emotion in her tone, or manner of speaking, you should interject:

"it sounds like you’re [insert emotion name here] about this.
Couple of other points: When you listen to her, you must empty your mind of trying to formulate a reply. Pay attention to her like you would if she were hard to hear, or if she had a heavy accent. Wait to offer a reaction until she has finished saying her piece, or she asks you for a reaction. At this point, it’s ok to pause and think a bit.

This technique, as you may already know, is called active listening. It can have some surprising effects. If someone is really mad or upset at the start of the conversation, it can make them calm down, because it really makes them feel like they are getting their point across. The act of paraphrasing can also draw out further insight from your conversation partner that would not have otherwise been offered.

As men, we often think that women who confide in us are asking for advice on how to fix a problem, when they are just seeking empathy and to unburden. This technique can offer them that comfort, without you having to come up with anything very clever or insightful to say.

I have also found this technique to be very effective in business, especially when dealing with dissatisfied customers, or during negotiations. It also works great with children, especially when they are upset.

Thank you for saying it so much better than I did.

Yep. Or you can ask “How do you feel about that?”

I just wanted to add that this ‘‘It sounds like you’re really _____’’ method doesn’t work merely on husbands and wives. It works with difficult bosses, pissed off customers, your Mom, and just about everyone else under the sun. It sounds ridiculously simple, but seriously, it will amaze you how much you can turn around someone’s attitude by simply recognizing their emotional state.

Pretty Much the above stuff, it also helps if you can have a lil’ goal each time:

“FIFE” is a good acronym us students are taught and we try to use in our interactions with people. When we talk to people, to show that we’re listening to them we should try to FIFE them and try to see if we can pick up on each of the letters:

**Feelings **- What is the person Feeling (not what they’re saying, but what they’re expressing) right now?
Ideations- What is the person trying to tell me from their point of view (their ideas basically)?
Function- What is the point of them telling me this? What’s the function of telling this?
Expectations- What is the speaker’s expectations about these ideas that they’re saying? Ie: what’s the speakers expectations in the telling of the story- did the anecdote meet their expectations/ or did something else happen that surprised them, etc.
The goal is to use that as sort of a checklist, so when you’re listening to the person, you keep that list in mind, and basically when you realize one of those things- you try to repeat it back to them, and see if you are correct.
Examples: “So what you seem to be telling me is (insert summary/ideations here)” OR “I’m sure that must make you feel [Identify the feeling being expressed]”
Basically, if you can use those as little cues, when you identify one, or if you’re not sure about one, you can interject and try to see if you’re following along correctly by asking about it.
-It makes you an active listener, and it allows the speaker to feel as if you’re really paying attention to what they’re saying and taking an active interest in what they’ve said, because you’re asking for details, clarifications, etc (even if it is just to fufill your getting all the letters of FIFE accomplished).

The other big part is simple non-verbal communication gestures- nodding your head, agreeing, small little cues that show you’re following along with the story and that you’re giving them the attention that they’re hoping to get (the falling asleep one obviously is a great example of the wrong sort of non-verbal communication :smiley: )

Just having a little system though to sort of give you a “cheat sheet” if you will really helps though, and eventually you just start to do it automatically- naming emotions, summarizing, and just automatically FIFE’ing people. It just takes practice but you CAN use it on family members, co-wokers, random people, even kids. It’s a good way of actively forcing yourself to listen to someone until you get used to it.