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 | By Cathie McDaniel

Dear Cathie: Last time you talked about communication, but my husband does not listen to me. Any suggestions?

In a conversation, talking and listening can create a unique dynamic. Two people will switch roles between the one speaking and the other not speaking. Most of us “hear,” but actual listening requires effort — it is a skill. Thankfully, it is a skill we can improve. Listening is a mental activity and something you consciously do. The term is “active listening.” In our personal lives and relationships, we can improve our active listening skills by doing the following when having a conversation.

  1. Concentrate and focus on what the person is saying. You cannot actively listen to someone if you are multitasking. This includes texting, watching TV, or doing any activity that will draw our attention away from the person speaking.
  2. Listen with respect. Look at the person speaking to you, and offer up positive feedback, such as “tell me more” or “that sounds important.” Ask questions that pertain to what the person is talking about. If you are formulating your response mentally while the other person is speaking, then you really aren’t listening to what is being said. And, that isn’t respectful.
  3. Listen with empathy. Try to understand and accept what the other person is saying. This does not mean you have to agree with them, but when you provide empathy to the other person, you are giving the message that you are paying attention.
  4. Maintain good eye contact. If someone is speaking and you look at the floor or fiddle with a button on your sweater, you are transmitting the message that you are not paying attention.

Ultimately, when we listen, we find ourselves enriched also. Active listening may shed new light on an issue of which we were unaware. Listening is an important gift we can give to others. When we actively listen to what the other person is saying, we put aside our own agenda.

“Let everyone be slow to speak and quick to listen …” (James 1:19)

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Cathie McDaniel is the director of Catholic Family Services in Huntsville. She has a master’s degree in clinical counseling from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Alabama.