Listening is a powerful relationship-building tool in families

When we listen, we encourage others to talk about what is important to them.

Just because a person acts like they hear a message does not necessarily mean that they really “heard” you. One of the key ways to reduce family conflict and to improve family communication is to polish our listening skills. When we listen well to family members, we encourage them to talk about what is most important to them. It’s all too easy to be careless about really listening in families. Sometimes we assume that we know what the other person means or we pretend to listen while we do something else. Below are five things to remember about listening.

  1. Listening requires that we be attentive.
    Paying attention and putting aside what we are doing shows the person speaking that we intend to listen to them. Often, it is difficult to be attentive to them and set aside our own opinions, thoughts and conclusions until we have heard what the speaker wants to say.
  2.  Listening requires an attitude of openness and respect for what our family member is saying.
    We may disagree, but by being willing to really hear what the other person believes communicates that we respect the other person.
  3. Listening requires both hearing words and sensing feelings.
    We can check that we got the other person’s message and meaning by repeating what we heard. This gives the speaker a chance to make sure that we heard both what they say and how they feel.
  4. Listening requires that we verify that we heard what they said and feel, not that we necessarily agree.
    This lets the speaker know that we value and respect their thoughts and feelings. It validates them and their self-esteem.
  5. Listening is difficult when strong emotions are present.
    Just being with a family member who is listening, even when our spouse, child or parent is not quite ready, is a good first step to take. Sometimes they will come back later to tell us more about the issue. A gentle touch or hug can show support when we don’t know what to say.

By remembering these five listening tips, we can reduce conflict and increase healthy family communication.

To find more tips on listening and other communication tips, read “Families first – keys to successful family functioning: Communication” by the Virginia State University Cooperative Extension.

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