One of our most basic relationship needs is to be listened to and understood. As the Turkish saying goes, ‘if speaking is silver, then listening is gold.’ We feel the most connected with those who take the time to be truly interested in what we have to say. Listening is a more valuable factor in communicating than speaking well. An added benefit is that our ears will never get us into trouble – unlike our mouths.

Giving undivided attention to your partner is possibly the sincerest form of flattery, according to Dr. Joyce Brothers. It means paying attention to more than the words being said but to the meaning behind the words. Being aware of tone and body language can help us see beyond the words. We practice the same type of attention when we’re fully engaged in music - we hear not only the lyrics but the essence of the composition.

We are born with the ability to hear, but we must learn to be great listeners, just as we can develop our speaking skills. Our natural listening mode is passive, with words going in one ear and out the other. Details may be overlooked and content misunderstood. Our partner may feel disrespected and begin to speak less and hold back.

Active listening, on the other hand, requires participation to effectively understand what is being said. Focus and intention are the keys to actively listening. Preparations need to be made by intentionally opening up our minds to be receptive to not only the words but the meaning.

• Being physically present in the conversation means no TV, computer, doodling or fidgeting. Never answer a cell phone or perform any other task that would interrupt the conversation. Looking at your watch is a definite no-no.

• Ongoing eye contact during the conversation shows respect and interest. Stay focused on your partner’s message, giving full attention by tuning out other conversations or distractions going on around you, if at all possible.

• Be patient and respectful regardless of how long it takes them to make their point. Don’t impatiently finish their sentences, make disapproving faces or interrupt hoping to speed things up. Just listen!

• Use words of encouragement like ‘tell me more’ or ‘and then what happened?’ Ask questions to learn details that will help you to discern the intent.

Active listening takes effort but is worth the time you put into it. Good things happen when you pay attention. You and your partner will be happier, more trusting and have fewer misunderstandings, hurt feelings and, the ultimate relationship killer, periods of silence.

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