Lend Me Your EAR? – Communication Skills for Thriving Relationships
Sharing information by means of words and behavior is necessary in order to improve life’s most important relationships. We communicate with others because we desire emotional connection, irrespective of the question asked, or the look or gesture. To put it simply, the underlying message between the speaker and the hearer is: “Hey, I want to emotionally connect with you.” But some people’s desire for emotional connection comes across in such a subtle way that it can all-too-easily be lost in the exchange between speaker and hearer. Moreover, given that poorly-learned communication skills tend to be our default when trying to engage or manage difficult conversations, the end result is often mixed messages and unmet emotional needs.
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and found your mind wandering off to tomorrow’s dinner? Or what about that time when you were pouring out your heart, only to discover that the listener wasn’t truly listening? In general, listening requires that you suspend your own thoughts for a brief period of time, remain attentive, hear the spoken words, and observe the body language. And what about listening with your heart?
Creating Emotional Connections
Each day our lives are filled with amazing opportunities for deepening our relationships. But we miss many of these life intersections because we have not learned to listen with the heart. In James 1:19, Christ calls us to hear beyond the words, to harness our desire to speak, and to not allow emotion to control or drive our responses to others. One writer expressed it like this:
This type of listening calls on your intuition (the Holy Spirit), and asks you to be an observer and student of your environment, relationships, and experiences. It requires an interesting mix of focus and giving yourself over to whatever is happening, and the result is a subtle but powerful kind of self-discovery and personal growth.
For the believer, this is about the work and leading of the Holy Spirit – He who illuminates the heart and reveals the intentions of the mind, enabling us to hear with the heart.
How Do We Listen with the Heart?
Hearing with the heart calls for committed action and practice. Ready? Set? Go … but go slow. Here are some things to consider as you seek to listen with the heart.
As you listen, try to ask open-ended questions about the topic. Proceed slowly and take time to try to understand what is being shared and why it is important. Remember that your goal is to establish emotional connection. Is a problem situation being described? Go slowly, and don’t rush to a resolution. Is the speaker sharing some facts, an amusing story, or the reasons behind a decision or action? “What happened? How? What led you to this conclusion?” and, “How do you feel about it?” are examples of exploratory questions.
Try to acknowledge what is being shared by echoing the words or statements you hear, or by re-phrasing the message in your own words. Think, pray, and reflect (TPR). Take time (pause!) to consider how you might be interpreting the emotion behind the speaker’s words or tone of voice.
Remember that the purpose of acknowledging is to “verify” whether you understand correctly. First seek to understand before asking to be heard. Pause and allow the speaker to clarify or even correct what you have stated.
Give your response, stating what you think or feel after the speaker has validated that you understand what was shared. Your response can support, agree, dispute, or elaborate on the topic. In your response, you are expressing your message back to the hearer – and then perhaps they will be able to provide an EAR for you.
A Daily Prayer
Ask the Lord to help you lean on the Holy Spirit and trust His guidance. Be open to opportunities to build healthy emotional connections. TPR (think, pray and reflect) and go slow. With daily practice, you will master the practice of lending an EAR and hearing with your heart.
Christian Counseling to Boost Your Communication Skills
If you find that communication has become difficult in your relationships, then consider Christian counseling. I am a Christian counselor who would welcome the opportunity to help you learn the skills you need to become an effective communicator. There are tools that you can gain to become someone who experiences healthy emotional connection in your marriage, work, or other family relationships.
Gottman, John M., The Relationship Cure – 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family and Friendships
Rudan, Gina M., Listen with your Heart
“EarPlugger,” courtesy of ABC Radio National, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “letstalkaboutit.jpg” courtesy of taliesin, morguefile.com