By far the most common complaint marriage counselors hear is the statement: “We can’t communicate.”
There are many reasons why communication stops or becomes superficial and brittle, including poor conflict resolution, problem solving, compromising and negotiating skills; withholding information; keeping secrets from each other and becoming defensive—to name a few. But one of the most overlooked reasons is because many of us have poor listening skills.
How well do you listen? Take this quiz to find out. Using the following scale, rate each question with the closest number.
Scale: 1 (Virtually Never); 2 (Seldom); 3 (Sometimes); 4 (Often); 5 (Very Frequently)
- You seem to often have trouble being able to accurately recall the details about a conversation.
- I am uncomfortable asking questions as a way of encouraging someone to open up to me. People will tell me what they want me to know, and anything else feels like prying.
- How frequently do you get interrupted by phone calls, texts, emails, social media postings or other distractions when you’re talking with someone else?
- In a restaurant or other public place, how frequently do you listen in on other conversations when you’re engaged in your own conversation with other people?
- How often do you finish other people’s sentences for them, or complete the jokes or stories they tell?
- How often do you interrupt when you have something to say during a conversation?
- I listen more for the facts than the feelings in attempting to understand what someone is saying to me.
- After someone tells you a story, how likely are you to follow up with your own story?
- People have told me that it doesn’t feel like I’m listening when they are talking to me.
- I am often thinking about my response when other people are talking.
- It’s your observation that watching the other person’s body language is seldom helpful in understanding what is being said. It’s the words that are important, not those non-verbal cues.
- People have said you seem spaced out a lot.
- You find yourself interrupting another person’s conversation frequently.
- I can carry on conversation while I’m watching TV, checking emails or otherwise engaged in some other task.
- It’s not that important to look at who is talking to me. I can multi-task and still listen.
- I sometimes cut people off in mid-sentence in order to give my opinion or say how I feel.
- People seldom seek me out when they need a sounding board or want to talk about a problem. This puzzles me.
- Usually in a conversation, I’m the one who talks the most.
- I am quick to correct someone if they mispronounce a word or say something I disagree with.
Scoring: Total all your scores. If your score falls in the 19-43 range, you are a wonderful listener, and other people are likely to seek you out when they want (or need) to talk.
If your score is 44-57, you are a good conversationalist, but you could improve by focusing more on the other person, interrupting less and making the conversation less about you and more about the other person.
If your score is 58 or above, your desire is to talk, not listen. This makes you a difficult person for someone to share their inner feelings with.
Good listening involves more than just hearing. It is an active, not a passive process, and it requires asking questions, offering comments and keeping the focus on somebody else instead of on yourself. It requires your presence and your interest. If you don’t offer that, another person will sense your lack of presence and genuine concern—and will then be very likely to clam up around you. One of the easiest ways of stopping another person from opening up to you is to cut them off mid-sentence because you have something important you want to say—because you will communicate that what you have to say trumps what s/he has to say.
An extremely useful technique is to summarize what the other person has said and then ask whether you understand him or her correctly. If you combine that with using words of encouragement (“I understand,” “Tell me more about that,” “Keep on going,” “Is there more?”) you will increase your listening skills dramatically.
Also, refrain from offering advice unless the other person specifically asks for your advice. And whenever you can, offer validation and empathy, which is what most of us are looking for a lot of the time.