Regardless of your political allegiance, there is a great deal that can be learned about effective communication by watching how the presidential candidates interacted with each other this election year. More importantly, the way in which many ideas that candidates expressed were invalidated by their political opponents gives us valuable information on the importance of listening. Because many of the candidates demonstrated some of the common blocks to effective listening, this election year has highlighted how communication can be deficient without effective listening skills.
One of the common myths about listening is that it is a passive rather than an active process. Many people believe that if they are not talking, they are not communicating. This belief often leads to the idea that people should be rehearsing what they are going to say next while someone else is talking.

This is one of the primary obstacles to effective listening. Alternatively, if we were to suspend thinking about what we are going to say next and focus on the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of the other person, we most likely would be enhancing the communication process.
Although mentally rehearsing what we are going to say next is a typical challenge to effective listening, it is by no means the only one. Another common listening error is assuming that we know what the other person is thinking and feeling without asking. Although non-verbal communication can tell us a lot about the disposition of the person we are talking to, it is always better to seek clarification of the person’s feelings as opposed to trying to be a mind-reader. Additionally, many people fall into the trap of evaluating the person that they are communicating with by what they say as opposed to trying to understand that person’s world view.

Although it may seem counterintuitive to be empathetic to a person’s view if we disagree with their perspective, it is often this spirit of mutual understanding that promotes better communication.
So just how can we make listening more of an active process? The best way to do this is to apply the same principles that we would utilize to communicate our feelings assertively to listening. Since assertive communication starts with expressing how you feel, as a listener, you can actively seek clarity on the other person’s feelings by asking direct questions that get them to express their feelings. Furthermore, once the other person’s feelings have been understood exploration of what the other person wants in relation to their feelings can be facilitated as well. We demonstrate effective listening by communicating back to the other person what we understand their feelings and wishes to be. This not only provides the other person an opportunity to clarify our interpretations of what they have said, but it also communicates that we are understanding their point of view. Although this approach might not result in campaign victories, it can often lead to expanded fulfillment in our personal relationships.
Interpersonal effectiveness skills are taught in detail in the DBT Skills group provided at Specialized Therapy Associates. Should you have any interest in enrolling in the DBT Skills group, please call 201-488-6678 for details.