Support Your Partner By Improving Your Listening Skills
Editor’s Note: May 13th-18th is Women’s Health Week! Join us as we highlight women’s health issues (including endo!), and share messages about strong women across the world.
Feeling heard is empowering. To feel that you’re not so alone, like someone understands, and that you have the power to change your situation are important things for someone suffering from a chronic condition like endometriosis.
A couple of years back, I took part in a short introductory course in 'basic listening skills'. As I was working within education at the time, I approached the lessons from the perspective of a counselor or teacher, but very early on, our group realized how much potential these skills had in benefiting our interactions with family and friends. We all came to the realization that we took listening for granted, unaware that it is a skill that requires attention and practice.
Tracking is the first skills we looked at – the foundation to build all of our other skills up from - and it involves focusing on yourself. Tracking means to keep track of your thoughts and feelings whilst you are listening to your partner. Is your mind wandering? Are you busy thinking of a response rather than listening to what’s being said? If you know what’s going on inside yourself, you can make sure you are responding to your partner in an unbiased way. When communicating with a loved one, this becomes especially important, as emotions and agendas can creep into responses when communicating someone you share your life with.
Silent listening is about listening fully to what your partner is saying, without interrupting as soon as there is a pause or moment to speak. When pauses and silence are allowed to develop, space is given to open up and the conversation can lead to places it otherwise wouldn’t have gone. By not having to speak or listen, your partner can reflect on their own internal thought processes.
Mirroring involves reflecting someone’s words, movements, and tone back at them. A lot of our communication is nonverbal, and the effects of mirroring someone’s body language are well documented. Mirroring also allows someone to hear their own words come from someone else’s mouth, giving them a chance to reflect on it and slow down if they are talking fast or getting worked up.
Interestingly, this way of thinking about listening isn’t new. The traditional Chinese character for ‘to listen’ reflects this type of active, empathetic listening well. The character for this verb is 聽, pronounced ting, and is made up of several smaller characters. The left hand side of the character is 耳(ear), an obvious part of listening. But as we have explored, listening is more than just hearing. To the right of the character is 目(eye), representing the importance of body language and non-verbal communication underlies conversation. It also contains 一 (one), which can be interpreted as ‘undivided attention’. The bottom right of the character contains 心 (heart), reminding us to have empathy toward what is being communicated.
The power of listening
This may seem like a clinical way of looking at empathy, breaking it down in to steps to be learned and rehearsed, but I truly believe that listening is a skill to be honed and practiced. Listening is more than just hearing what someone says. It is about understanding the meaning of their words, being non-judgmental, not injecting your bias into what they say, and showing them you understand. By improving our listening skills, we have the ability to support someone with endometriosis in a deep and meaningful way.
The holiday season is among us and can be so stressful! Do you experience more flares during this season?