No one likes talking to a brick wall.
But how can we finally break through?
Now, more than ever, there are more toys and gadgets to distract us from real face-to-face interactions. With all that constant stimulation caused by our daily grind, sometimes all we really want to do is have some “me time,” a chance to futz around on our phones (hello, Bejeweled) and simply refocus after a hard day’s work. After all, haven’t we earned that? Moreover, as political and social tensions run high, many of us are probably unknowingly shutting ourselves off from some perspectives. Or perhaps we’re guilty of making judgments too quickly about what we see shared on our Facebook walls. Often, all of these totally human blunders mean we neglect to really listen to the people around us—our partners, best pals, and family members.
We’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s intentional; other times, it’s not. One thing is for sure: It doesn’t feel good.
Helene Moore, PsyD, MAPP, clinical health psychologist at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Medicine, says that anyone can train themselves to be a better listener. What’s more? Becoming a better listener is sure to have a positive impact on all your relationships and interactions.
What is active constructive responding?
For starters, do any of these situations sound familiar?
01. You are already thinking about a response before someone is finished talking. You find that this happens especially when emotions are running high or there is conflict.
02. Your BFF just finished dishing about her stellar job interview, is looking for a response, and all you can muster up is, “Oh, sorry! I must have spaced out.”
These typical scenarios basically translate to one thing: You’re not really listening. Yikes.
I know, me too. But when this happens, don’t try to bluff your way through it—your friend can tell. Just be honest about your blunder, and refocus. “There’s a difference between listening and hearing . . . to actually listen means to understand the person, and we all want to feel understood,” Moore says.
So, how do you build more positive relationships with those around you? Employ active constructive responding, a concept developed by psychologist Shelly Gable, Moore says.
“Active constructive responding is a tool for that particular time when things are going right in someone’s life,” she says. “It’s a way to capitalize on our positive emotions” and show your friends or whomever you’re talking to that you’re right there, in the moment, with them.
Here’s how it works:
01. Ask questions.
A friend just landed the gig of her dreams. As the listener, you want her to not only share the good news but explain it, too. So instead of responding, “Oh great, I’m happy for you”—which is perfectly nice and socially acceptable—try something like this: “That’s incredible! Tell me more about it. What will you be responsible for? What are you most excited about with this job?” Ask a lot of questions that help the person relive that positive moment. Not only does it foster a greater connection between the two of you, but it also just feels good (for you and for her).
02. Be authentic.
Although it’s tempting, don’t fake it. Active constructive responding only works when you are authentic and genuine in your conversation. If you just can’t do it, Moore says you’re better off not trying. You’re not fooling anyone.
03. Share in their joy.
There will be times when you’re not excited about what your friend is excited about—perhaps you can’t relate to her new job, or you really don’t think it’s good for her. Moore says that you don’t need to be excited about what it is. Instead, be excited for the person, and celebrate her happiness. “It is not about what you value,” she says. “It’s about the person’s joy. Keep your judgments aside and just share in the person’s joy.”
04. Don’t rush in with unsolicited advice.
Know that you don’t need to have the answers. When your friend comes to tell you about something tough, the knee-jerk reaction is to offer advice. But that’s not necessary, Moore says. “We need to get back to the art of listening, as opposed to feeling like you have to have all the answers. When someone comes to you with a problem, there’s something very healing in listening and being heard and being understood. It’s not just about having a solution.” You’re helping your friend by simply lending an ear.
The truth is, we can’t all go around applying active constructive responding to every conversation we have every single day—but we can do more than what we already do, Moore says. “It only takes a minute, and to spend that extra time with someone you care about is really worth it.”