Why Can’t We Get Along?

Every family has times when the members  can’t seem to get along. Every day, life seems to be filled with tension and conflict. There seems to be little tolerance for others’ points of view. The atmosphere is one of anger and impatience. Members mostly express disapproval and look for ways to get each other to change. Often, in families that get into a rut of disharmony, members have stopped listening to each other. Sometimes the solution to restoring harmony to the family is to focus on some simple listening skills.

Learning to listen with empathy will help you get along better with just about anyone. Listening well means not just hearing the words a person is saying; it also means really comprehending the meaning of the message and what feeling the person is conveying. The elements of good listening are:
Message + meaning + feelings.
Being a good listener has many benefits.
Good listening is good for your relationships because you:
• Demonstrate that the other person matters to you.
• Show that you want to understand the other person.
• Quickly discover and correct misunderstandings.
• Show that you accept what the speaker is saying
• Encourage people to discuss more meaningful things with you.
• Understand people better.
• Make fewer assumptions about others.
Your relationships will get better because:
• People will like talking with you.
• People will talk more openly with you.
• You will have a better understanding of people are really saying, not what you think they are saying.
• People will feel safer about opening up with you.
• You will get to know people better when you talk about more significant things.
• You will feel more accepting of others.
• You will get to know people better and feel more tolerant of them.


It can be helpful to remind yourself to make the effort to tune in to what the people around you are saying and feeling. It is easy to operate on a kind of automatic pilot in our relationships with others, rarely really connecting with them.


There are some very good reasons why most of us are not very good listeners—to the detriment of our relationships. Instead of really listening to the other person, we are doing something else instead. We could be doing any of the following:
• Listening to the conversation going on in our heads. We are busy wondering, “What should I say next?” “What does he think of me?” “Why does she think that?” and the like.
• Evaluating what we just said. For example, “I shouldn’t have said that,” “She probably disagrees with me,” and the like.
• Choosing not to hear certain things the person is saying.
• Making judgments about what the person is saying. “I can’t believe she just said that,” “He is completely wrong,” “That was brilliant,” and the like.
• Thinking about something completely different.
• Getting ready to tell your own story as soon as you can interrupt.
• Preparing to give the person advice.
• Looking for ways to minimize the importance or validity of what the person is saying.
• Wishing the person would finish and just go away and leave you alone.
• Thinking of ways to turn the conversation over to you.
• Agreeing with the person as a way to get him or her to stop talking.
Since we are often so busy not listening to others, it is no wonder that we don’t really hear what they are saying. It can be helpful to remind yourself to make the effort to tune in to what the people around you are saying and feeling. It is easy to operate on a kind of automatic pilot in our relationships with others, rarely really connecting with them.

Chinese Character for “Listen”

1. Ask yourself these questions about the person you are listening to:
• What feelings is he or she conveying to you? Here are some examples: anger, alienation, annoyance, sadness, gladness, boredom, defeat, and exhilaration. (Visit http://www.eqi.org/fw for an extensive list of feeling words.)
• What is his or her view of the world? Positive? Negative? Why?
• What is the speaker’s body language conveying? Does it match his or her words?
2. Demonstrate that you are listening carefully with your body language. For example, you can:
• Make eye contact.
• Nod and encourage the speaker to elaborate and keep talking.
• Refrain from interrupting.
• Resist being distracted.
3. Replay the person’s message in your own words. Just say what you heard, whether you agree with it or not. For example:
• “You feel that what the teacher did was unfair.”
• “You wish you could just stay home today with your head under the covers.”
• “You sound like you’re surprised that you won this award.” The purpose of responding this way is to show that you are listening and to convey that you want to understand what the other person is saying and feeling.


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