Can you hear that?
What did you hear? You might be tempted to say that you didn’t hear anything, but I bet that you did hear something. I didn’t say anything, but there were likely many other things to listen to. Did you hear a horn honking outside the window from far away? Did you hear a clock ticking in the living room? Maybe you heard someone sneeze in the next room. Or a garbage truck outside. Maybe you heard the leaves rustle outside. Maybe you heard your own breathing.
Let’s try that again, and listen for a few seconds. Listen.
You know, there is a big difference between hearing and listening, and sometimes we need to actively work at listening in order to truly hear what someone is saying – or not saying at all.
I’d like to talk about listening for a moment. There are so many different forms of listening and so many ways that learning to listen in a different, better, or more active way can really improve our lives and the lives of those around us.
I would like to focus on social situations – specifically shidduchim and friendships – and look at the ways that learning to listen can improve our relationships.
Shidduchim is all about communication. Does the couple see eye to eye? Are they able to share their thoughts and feelings in a respectful and appropriate way. Often, we think about communication in terms of words alone; however, a large part of communication is non-verbal. In what ways do we communicate without words?
Consider the case of Leah, a nineteen-year-old seminary student. Leah is smart and articulate, but recently as she has started going on shidduchim, she has not had much success keeping the conversation stress-free and comfortable. Even though Leah is a good conversationalist and smiles constantly, she radiates tension. Her shoulders and eyebrows are noticeably raised, her voice is shrill and her body is stiff. Being around Leah makes many people feel uncomfortable. Leah has a lot going for her, but that is all marred by the discomfort she evokes in others.
In order for Leah to set people more at ease, she has to be more comfortable herself. Here are some ways to demonstrate positive non-verbal communication:
- Eye contact: Maintaining eye contact is important; however, overdoing it can be disconcerting. Use eye contact to let the person know that you are listening to them with attention.
- Body movements and posture: The straighter you carry yourself, the more confident you seem. This confidence inspires confidence in others as well. In addition, closed-off body language such as crossed arms signals to others that you are not interested in interacting with them.
- Voice: We communicate with our voices, even when we are not using words. Non-verbal speech sounds such as tone, pitch, volume, inflection, rhythm, and rate are important communication elements. When we speak, other people “read” our voices in addition to listening to our words.
- Facial expressions: Unlike some forms of non-verbal communication, facial expressions are universal across all languages and people. Relaxing your muscles into a smile will not only relax the people around you, but will subconsciously tell your mind that you are happy as well.
Non-verbal communication such as proper eye contact and tone of voice often are extremely important in creating life-long relationships and friendships because they are an integral part of conflict resolution. Therefore, if a person has trouble both exhibiting non-verbal communication and understanding the non-verbal signals of others, they are more likely to have trouble making and maintaining long term relationships.
For many of us, non-verbal communication is something we pick up on from a young age and continue to develop as we grow. For others like Leah, and people who suffer from learning disabilities, distinguishing the non-verbal cues of others is quite difficult. For this reason, Dr. Jeanne Segal explains in her book The Language of Emotional Intelligence that it is very important to use perfect non-verbal skills in order to ease conflict and stress.
Here are some tips:
- Remain relaxed and focused in tense and intense situations: If you don’t know how to stay centered and in control of yourself, you may become emotionally overwhelmed in challenging situations. Therefore, like Leah, you might give off the wrong impression.
- Read non-verbal cues. Evaluate the person you are speaking to in terms of eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, intensity, timing, and pace. Modify your own behavior in accordance with how you want them to react.
- Be playful in tense situations. You can avoid many confrontations and resolve differences by using humor and a playful attitude. Smiling and laughing signal to those around you that you are interested in harmony rather than discord.
- Listen. Perhaps the most important way that we can improve our emotional intelligence is by paying attention to those around us. Like we did at the beginning of this talk when we listened in the silence, we can learn to hear what people are not saying as well as what people are saying. The more we pay attention to our own non-verbal communication, the better we will be at recognizing that communication in others.
Remember, you can learn from the words and silences of those around you. Paying attention to both will help you be a better friend, spouse, and parent. Of course, if you feel that you need help with listening and non-verbal communication, especially around shidduchim but also with friendships in general, there are people who do shidduch coaching and general relationship coaching who work specifically on those skills to help encourage conversation and relationship building.
Sometimes all you need is a bit of encouragement to listen – even when nothing is being said.