In the previous blog, points were shared about ways we can practice responding in conversation versus reacting to others based on heightened emotions. A precursor to responding in healthy ways to de-escalate emotional settings is cultivating effective listening skills. This is not an easy skill, but when intentionally practiced makes a difference in having a clear understanding of how the other person feels. By taking time to understand how the other person is feeling and what they are thinking, we become less likely to fall into the trap of mind-reading and jumping to conclusions – which often play a role in emotionally charged reactions. Mind-reading and jumping to conclusions are types of cognitive distortions that, when left unchecked, can influence our emotions negatively and distort our perception of other people’s actions or words.
So, what do effective listening skills look like? Begin with maintaining an openness to what the talker is saying. It can be helpful to remind yourself of how much you value the other person, whether it is a family member, friend, or colleague. If the intention is to foster healthy communication, you can practice being fully present. This looks like paying attention and looking at the other person while they are speaking, nodding one’s head; displaying genuine interest in what they are expressing. The opposite of this would be, if we are in our heads and not listening to understand because we are focused on what we need to say next to defend ourselves or prove a point.
How does one avoid jumping to conclusions? Ask questions and clarify what is being said, to ensure that you have grasped the essence of what the other person is saying and how the person talking feels. You can then paraphrase what you have gathered and confirm that you have not jumped to conclusions or assumed anything about the situation at hand.
Listening skills are an important part of fostering healthy communication. Imagine the difference one will feel when we are not jumping to conclusions about a person’s motives, not mind-reading, and therefore getting a more accurate understanding that does not skew our perception. With an accurate understanding, emotions such as anger and disappointment are de-escalated within us because we are not assuming the negative.
In the next blog we will continue with effective communication style: strategies for communicating our feelings.