4 Skills To Improve Your Relationships
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One of the best things you can do to improve your relationships is to become a better listener. Most people think they are good listeners, and that is fine, but there is always room to improve. Borrowing strategies from Carl Rogers' person-centered therapy, we can improve our listening skills and gain a better understanding of who our friends and loved ones really are, not just who they are to us.
1. Unconditional Positive Regard
This is a tough one, but no one said it was going to be easy! Simply put, the principle of "Unconditional Positive Regard" means always being on the person's side, whether you agree with what they say or not. It doesn't mean that you have to agree with everything that comes out of their mouth, but it does mean that we can put aside our personal opinions in order that we have the space and time to try to understand someone else's. That means that when the person sitting in front of you says, 'I despise cats', you resist the urge to defend your own fluffy little darling who is oh-so-cute that no one could despise her. Instead you would nod and wait to hear more.
But 'Why?' I hear you say!
Because when people feel less judged, they relax. Their defenses come down as they see they can trust you with their feelings without you making them feel uncomfortable or ashamed. As the trust becomes greater, they will tell you more about themselves and what is really bothering them. This can be very therapeutic for them and bond the two of you.
2. Repetition and Rephrasing
It is important that the person you are speaking with feels understood. One good way to do this is to repeat back what they have said in your own words, and ask them if you have understood correctly.
Statement: 'I feel so annoyed with him because he should know that I wouldn't have approved of his going to the baseball game without asking my brother to come along too.'
Good Listening: 'I hear you saying that you thought he knew you wanted him to ask your brother to the baseball game. He went to the game without your brother and now you're annoyed. Have I got that right?'
This gives you an opportunity to show the person that you are paying attention to what they are saying and have understood. If you haven’t quite cottoned on, it also gives them an opportunity to correct you without feeling rude, as you have given them an invitation to. Simply repeating back what people say in a rephrased manner, rather than jumping in with our own opinions and experiences, can create a liberating experience for the person who is sharing.
3. Minimal Encouragers
Another effective technique is to use minimal encouragers. We do this all the time in every day conversation, but the conscious use of it can encourage people to talk further.
Minimal encouragers include:
- Saying 'hm', 'okay', 'yes', 'no', 'uh-huh' etc at appropriate points
Including these at relevant points in conversation lets the listener know we are truly paying attention and are interested in what they have to say.
4. No Advice
Whenever someone starts talking about their problems, we usually jump right in with the answer to all their woes.
'Have you tried rubbing lotion on it?'
'Would you consider telling him how you much the lobster really meant to you?'
'When I was in the same situation, I changed the locks to my doors, and look how great it worked out for me!'
It's only our natural reflexes kicking in. We want to help, we want to see the problem resolved. Maybe we have some genuine experience in this area or know just how we'd handle it.
The person with the problem might not have the confidence to follow the course of action you would. Your idea of desirable outcome might not match theirs. They have to work out for themselves what they would like to do next, so we just have to sit back, use our minimal encouragers and keep our words of wisdom to ourselves.
The itch to suggest advice is almost unbearable!
But once we see their ideas taking shape and their own power coming to the fore, we realize that our unconditional acceptance is much more powerful than our advice.
Using the four techniques of Unconditional Positive Regard, Repeating and Rephrasing, Minimal Encouragers and No Advice, we can make people feel more listened to and understood when they talk to us. This can only be a good thing in building communication, which is the foundation for all relationships. It can be very rewarding to use these techniques to improve your relationship with friends, colleagues and family. However it is important that you keep appropriate boundaries.
When in the therapy room, the counselor has the boundaries of time (the session will last for a predetermined length), familiarity (the counselor will not be friends with the client) and confidentiality (the counselor will not repeat what is said in the counseling room to anyone). They also have the support of a peer, who they talk to about anything that is concerning them to do with their clients. There is a contract between the counselor and client that further protects both parties and makes their responsibilities towards each other clearer.
It is important that you only use these techniques in moderation and in the context of the existing relationships. Counseling and therapy can be extremely difficult for both parties in some circumstances, and if you find that someone you are talking with has issues that are very serious or you feel out of your depth, it would be wise for you to refer them to a trained Counselor.
If you find that you really enjoy talking to your friends and family in this way, consider getting some formal training for yourself. There are often evening or weekend courses at local colleges to accommodate students who want to study outside working hours. It could be the start of a fresh and rewarding career.
Written by Iman Mohiki