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Living Well News – Improving Relationships: Skills that Work

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The Gift of Listening

Have you ever been talking with someone and, before you can even finish your sentence, they interrupt to share their own thought or finish yours? Or perhaps you are in the middle of making an important point and their attention is pulled away as they check their ringing cell phone, send an email, or reply to a text message. We’ve all watched someone we are talking to nod and even mutter “uh huh” – knowing they didn’t really hear a word we just said.

People notice and can feel when others are not paying attention. These are conversations that leave people feeling unheard and unimportant, and they happen to all of us. In fact, most of us are guilty on a regular basis of listening to others in this same way.

Listening with all of our attention is a discipline that needs to be practiced. It is also a skill that pays big dividends in both personal relationships and business endeavors. After all, every part of life is about relating.

When we become skilled listeners, we provide people around us with a gift that they have rarely been given in their lifetime. For when we truly listen we take others in, learn about them, and acknowledge that they exist. When we listen we also learn more and allow ourselves to truly know others and to challenge our assumptions. Listening facilitates change.

Do you tend to hear people or really listen?

The Power of Validation

Validation is to recognize and accept another person’s thoughts and feelings, regardless of whether or not you feel that they should be experiencing them. Validation helps us to develop a sense of self-worth. People who are validated feel reassured that they will be accepted and loved regardless of their feelings, while those who are not validated are more vulnerable to emotional and behavioral problems and relational difficulties.

We can validate another person by paying attention and reflecting back what we heard them share with us, asking questions, and identifying with them. This helps all of us feel “part of” and less alone. We can easily overlook the fact that ignoring others or neglecting to acknowledge them is indeed invalidation. This is why childhood neglect is considered abuse.

When you don’t identify with how someone feels can you still validate their feels and personal experience?

Receiving Graciously

We all want to receive. That is just human nature. “Give and take” is built into our primal template of survival skills. We give in order to belong and to build cooperative relationships with others as well as to plant the seeds for being able to take later when we need to. Without the dynamic of give-and-take, civilizations would crumble and cease to exist.

Receiving is different than taking in that it involves being aware of the giver, what is being given, as well as the intentions of the giver. It requires being able to receive and truly say “Thank you” and take in the emotions that come along with generosity, such as gratitude, happiness and, at times, awkwardness. Receiving with accountability builds true relationships – allowing for vulnerability and intimacy. How many of us are gracious receivers who truly receive the intentions, kindness, and generosity of others that are attached to what they give to us? What is your check and balance – Do you tend to be more of a giver or a taker?

Taking Turns – Building Cooperation

Early on in life our parents teach us the importance of “taking turns” – an important lesson because it’s learning the value of patience and courtesy. Knowing how to take turns becomes even more important as we move forward in life as adults, as we build relationships and alliances with others that we need in order to sustain. But adult “reason” can get in the way of this – making some people, events, and things more important or convenient. This can be hurtful.

As adults we are more apt to apply judgment as to why some things are more important than others. We can slight people without knowing because our reasons seem just, so it is easy to assume they should be accepted by others. When we do this, we block other people from having experiences that they need to feel valuable and “part of.” We also block people from truly being known and appreciated outside of the roles that we tend to put them in.

As much as we might not want to take turns and do what we feel is wanted or suits us, taking turns is necessary to relationships. At times we must let go of what we want for the greater good of relationship. How are you with taking turns?

We invite you to explore your relationship skills. Are they working for you? Is there room for improvement? Do you have a friend or family member who might need a refresher?

About the Author
Paula Tropiano is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Addictions Specialist providing holistic – skills based counseling and therapy to adults in West Chester, PA. (610) 692-4995.