Boost your speaking and listening skills

Family relationships are rooted in interactions. When you interact with your loved ones and others, you switch between two roles: speaker and listener. Speaking and listening are essential components of communication that people begin to learn as children and can continue to improve throughout their lifetime. Consider the following speaking and listening tips to optimize your interactions.

Speaking Skills

“Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much." — Blaise Pascal

People communicate in many different ways. Sometimes two people can say the same words but mean two different things. Therefore, clearly articulating what you want to communicate is key. Try the following speaking skills:

  • Give yourself time to think about what you want to convey, and choose your words thoughtfully. Be assertive by expressing your thoughts and opinions in respectful ways.
  • Introduce your ideas with “I” statements instead of beginning with “you.” It will help you think about why a particular situation matters to you.
  • Limit what you say to just a few sentences. If you begin to talk in long paragraphs, the person you’re speaking with might lose focus or latch onto one thing you’ve said and fail to hear the full explanation.
  • Avoid common roadblocks to communication that can get in the way of truly conveying what’s on your mind. Common roadblocks include ordering people around, preaching, lecturing, judging, criticizing, distancing, and using sarcasm.
  • Be aware of your own body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Ask yourself if yours are consistent with the message you’re trying to deliver.
  • Make eye contact. It’s an important part of establishing a connection and relating well to one another.
  • Agree on a plan for how to keep in touch during deployment. It will help to ensure you and your loved ones know how often and what you will talk about during the time you’re apart.

Listening Skills

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” ― Bernard M. Baruch

Clearly verbalizing what you want to say is only one part of the equation. Being a good listener is essential to good communication, especially within families. Consider the following listening skills:

  • Approach listening with genuine curiosity. Assume you have something to learn or might need more  information.
  • Show you’re really listening by minimizing distractions. This might mean putting your phone away, turning down the radio, or shutting off the TV. If the kids are being rowdy, it might not be the best time for an important conversation. Set a time to talk when you’re better able to control the commotion. 
  • Focus on what your loved one is saying. If you find yourself starting to plan a response in your mind while the other person is talking, you’ve probably stopped listening.
  • Ask yourself what your body language says about how well you’re listening. Face the person directly, and maintain a relaxed posture and neutral facial expression.
  • Make eye contact so the speaker knows you’re following along.
  • Verbal reassurances also can be helpful, such as saying “uh-huh,” “yes,” and “okay” as the person is talking. But don’t overdo it.
  • Ask open-ended questions to confirm you understand what was discussed and to clarify anything you’re not sure you understood.

Mastering these basic communication and listening skills can help foster better interactions in your family. Parents can teach children and teens these skills to help them effectively convey what they mean and listen to those around them. Practice these skills in all conversations, especially when you’re calm and relaxed. Doing so can increase the chances you’ll be able to call on these skills when your emotions are heightened. If a conversation begins to escalate into a conflict, exercise conflict management skills and be ready to take a break when needed.

References

Christensen, A., Dimidjian, S., & Martell, C. R. (2015). Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy. In A. S. Gurman, J. L. Lebow, & D. K. Snyder (Eds.), Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy (pp. 61–96). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Epstein, N. B., & Baucom, D. H. (2002). Enhanced Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Couples: A Contextual Approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Farroni, T., Csibra, G., Simion, F., & Johnson, M. H. (2002). Eye contact detection in humans from birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(14), 9602–9605. doi:10.1073/pnas.152159999

Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (2015). Gottman Couple Therapy. In A. S. Gurman, J. L. Lebow, & D. K. Snyder (Eds.), Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy (5 ed., pp. 129–160). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

McEvoy, P., Baker, D., Plant, R., Hylton, K., & Mansell, W. (2013). Empathic curiosity: Resolving goal conflicts that generate emotional distress. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 20(3), 273–278. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2012.01926.x