Dr. Gary Small, M.D., is a professor of psychiatry and aging and director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dr. Small, one the nations top brain health experts, frequently appears on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The Dr. Oz Show. He is co-author with his wife Gigi Vorgan of many popular books, including The New York Times best-seller, The Memory Bible, and The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. He is author of The Mind Health Report newsletter.

Dr. Gary Small, M.D.

Practice Listening to Enhance Relationships

Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 03:28 PM

By Gary Small, M.D.

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This exercise can help you learn to avoid being distracted by your own thoughts when trying to listen attentively during a conversation. I recommend trying this this exercise with a friend or spouse. It only takes a few minutes but has a big impact.
 
Begin by asking your partner to talk about something currently going on in his or her life: a recent challenge, long-term issue, or maybe an upcoming event. The speaker should focus on only his or her own feelings and avoid criticizing the listener. The point of the exercise is not to get into attacking and defending, but to focus on talking, listening, and understanding.
 
As the listener, try not to interrupt. Just maintain eye contact and stay focused on what your partner is saying. Even if your mind wanders or you have an emotional response to what you’re hearing, ignore the distracting thoughts and bring your attention back to listening to what your partner is saying.
 
After a few minutes, switch roles so now you are the speaker and your partner is the listener. You can pick a new topic or follow up on what your partner discussed. While talking, be mindful to avoid criticizing and stay focused on expressing your own feelings.
 
After both of you have had a chance to talk and listen, spend the next few minutes discussing the experience. Many people find that listening attentively as they do in this exercise helps them to develop a sense of empathy and understanding for the other person. This exercise also helps people break the common habit of interrupting while someone is speaking.

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