Imagine a couple is moving house, it’s an exciting time, they are able to upgrade and move to somewhere ‘better’. It has the potential to be an uplifting experience that brings them together. They are growing and progressing, they are now able to get the study they wanted or the garden. However, what is ‘better’ for partner A is not the same as for partner B. For partner A, ‘better’ means that the house needs to be in a central location, well connected with transport links, close access to facilities such as shops and schools. While for partner B, ‘better’ means that the house is in a quiet location, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, a place where they can retreat to for peace and quiet. On the surface, this sounds like incompatibility, but with care and sensitivity, it can help the partners to understand each other more fully and has the possibility of bringing them closer together.
Understanding Other People’s Perspectives
It is so important to understand other people’s perspectives, but sometimes we do not take the time to do this. It is easy to think of things from our own perspective; it comes naturally, automatically and takes very little cognitive effort. Whilst understanding other people’s perspectives can be time consuming and at times challenging. It requires us to suspend our own particular beliefs and consider things that we may have disagreed with in the past, or even consider things that we have not heard of before. When hearing a perspective that is very different to our own we can feel vulnerable, it takes away the certainties that we thought we had. However, it is a very beneficial thing to do, it can actually expand our world and help us develop a stronger sense of connection with other people.
Active -Empathic Listening
To help bridge the gap between the needs of partners A and B, it is important for them to understand each other’s perspectives, including why they feel the way they do. Why is access to facilities important to one partner and a place a retreat is important for the other partner? What meanings do they attach to these things? How do these things make them feel?
To help them communicate and move forward they can use active -empathic listening. This uses the active listening skills of attentive listening and paraphrasing to reflect back what the other person has said in order to check understanding. However, with the empathic listening component, the listener expands their understanding by picking up on the emotional undertone of what is being said. They listen attentively, without judgement and allow their partner to fully explain their reasoning. They may help their partner expand their points by using phrases such as ‘How does that make you feel?’ As well as bringing out into the open the feelings each partner has about their housing preference, it can also uncover their motivations and each partner can begin to understand why things like good facilities or peace and quiet are important to each other.
This breaks down barriers and fosters a sense of connectedness between the partners. Active-empathic listening takes time to learn and requires practice. However, from the very first time you use it you will feel the benefits as the person you are talking to will feel truly listened to. That is one of the greatest gifts we can give to other people because we are giving them our time and our undivided attention.
So what happened to partner A and partner B, where did they move to? In a way that is unimportant, what is important is that wherever they went they felt more valued by their partner than before because their partner had taken time to show care, compassion and empathy.
When you are next in a conversation with someone and you know you are not going to be disturbed, take time to tune into their emotional undertone and notice the difference in your conversation. Let me know how you get on.
About the author: Bryony Shaw
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’