The impact of good listening on relationships

In a new review article, Lemay, Le, Clark (2023) describe research into the impact of good listening on relationships. Here I will briefly discuss some things from their article.

Listening well

Good listening, an important aspect of communication, involves following the speaker attentively, understanding his message, and respecting him. This active listening, which includes empathy and appreciation, helps build and maintain relationships. People strive to feel valued in their relationships, and this is manifested by their heightened efforts to strengthen relationships or to be attractive to potential partners. Studies show that improved listening skills, achieved through attention, limited distraction, and focused training, can help satisfy relational needs.

The relationship between prosocial motivation and listening

Research shows that when people care about the speaker, they listen better. One study showed that listening behavior improved when people felt responsible for their partners' well-being, which is crucial in relationships. This behavior remained consistent even when the listener became distressed by the partner's problems. Good listening is associated with prosocial motivation—a willingness to help others. Good listeners are seen as trustworthy, and speakers tend to be more open when they feel they are being listened to. People with prosocial motivation listen because they care about their partners and because listening makes the partner feel cared for. Listening can also help deploy caring actions more effectively in the future by learning more about the speaker's needs and providing relevant support.

The link between relational value, motivation, and listening

People want to feel valued in relationships and often show this through their listening skills, which show concern for themselves and others. Research shows that the need to be socially accepted promotes listening. Those who feel this need strongly are more attuned to their friends' emotions and show more active listening behavior when they seek the approval of others. Factors such as loneliness and social isolation can also reinforce the need to be appreciated, which in turn can influence listening behavior. Loneliness can lead to increased attention to social cues, such as more frequent looking at the faces of others, which is a hallmark of active listening. Yet sometimes listening can be just a way of pretending to pay attention to the speaker. But even this kind of behavior can be considered responsive and appreciated. Listening is therefore an effective way to gain appreciation in both personal relationships and the workplace. Good listeners attract people and make others feel valued, which may help explain why they are valued themselves.

Some things to remember

  • Active listening, which includes attention, understanding, and respect for the speaker, plays a vital role in building and maintaining relationships.
  • People with prosocial motivation, or a willingness to help others, often listen better because they care about their partners and want to meet their needs.
  • The need to be valued in relationships can drive listening behavior, especially in people who feel a strong need to be socially accepted.
  • Loneliness and social isolation can influence listening behavior, with lonely people more likely to look at the faces of others, a hallmark of active listening.
  • Good listening can lead to more appreciation in both personal relationships and the workplace, as it attracts people and makes others feel valued.