The longer that I am a practicing a psychologist, the more I start to take for granted the things I've learned along the way. I'm thankful each and every time something happens that reminds me not to take this knowledge for granted.
It's second nature for me to engage in "active listening." I know how to pay attention, make eye contact, and let the person who is talking to me to know that I'm alive, paying attention, and taking what they say seriously. I had a telephone conversation the other day with a customer service person and found myself incredibly frustrated. They weren't engaged in active listening. I was first just plain annoyed that I had to work so hard to get my point across. It dawned on me that the person on the other end of the line had no idea how to listen to me. I was still annoyed, but softened up a little bit realizing that there was a lack of training and knowledge: the person wasn't really trying to annoy me.
I slipped into therapist mode for a minute, stopped yelling to get my point across, and used another skill that is second nature to me as a therapist: GIVE.
GIVE is a skill that is part of a trio of interpersonal effectiveness skills that are taught in dialectical behavioral therapy. While some of the acronyms that are used are a little corny, they are a good way to be reminded how to be effective in life.
use and Easy manner.
What does being gentle mean? Generally if you are finding yourself yelling, telling someone that they are dumb, stupid, or out of their minds, you are not being gentle. Take a breath. Play nice. Make a gentle joke if you are that sort or perhaps just make reference to the conversation being difficult.
Act interested? When someone is upset with you, don't say "blah blah blah", mock them, roll your eyes, twiddle your thumbs, or watch TV. Look at them, pay attention, let them know you are taking them seriously.
Take it a step further and validate what they are saying. Let them know you are alive, you hear them, and what they are saying is making some sort of impact.
Finally, use an easy manner. Make yourself approachable.
Try it out. You'll feel better about yourself and your relationships will be stronger.