There is no question, one of the most common issues I find in my counselling room when working with couples, is communication. Or more specifically, listening.

In fact, listening to each other seems to be a common interpersonal issue.

I was once in a communication workshop and we were asked to observe what happens when someone speaks to us. Overwhelmingly, people noticed that when someone else spoke to them, instead of listening, they were thinking about their response.

So if, when you talk to me I’m busy preparing my answer, how can I possibly be listening to you?

The answer is, I can’t! 

The instinct to “get my point across” prevents me from really hearing you.

And if the ‘receiver’ does the same thing (that is, prepare their response instead of listening), then achieving real communication is practically impossible.

Everyone is talking but nobody is listening.

What’s even more strange is that most people assume that when they they speak they have been heard:

“But I told you X, Y and Z. Don’t you remember?”

Have you ever watched Dr Phil? I find it amusing when he asks two people in conflict to re-tell their version of events and they both have completely different memories of what was said. The funny part for me is when Dr Phil then declares, “Well, one of you is lying!”

Well maybe, but maybe not. Maybe both of them were so busy preparing their argument that neither heard what was said!

So how can we all get better at listening?

  1. Don’t assume, check it out: Don’t assume you have heard what has been said, check it out. For example, “Are you saying….?” or, “What I’m understanding from what you are saying is….”
  2. Clarify: “I am understanding…. Have I heard you correctly?” If you have understood, your partner will say yes. They will feel heard and it will invite them to go further. But if not, or if they have been unclear, then they can clarify what they meant. Straight away you will begin to discover where the gaps are in your communication.

When we were given this exercise to do in my course all those years ago, we were all blown away by what happened. For most, when we checked out if we understood what the other person meant, guess what? Mostly the answer was NO! Most of the time our partner would say, “No, what I meant is….”

What? MOST OF THE TIME the communication was unclear. We had to go back and forth a few times just to get it clear!

It made me aware of how often people (myself included) don’t express themselves clearly. And in addition, how often the person on the receiving end is either not listening or misinterpreting.

Consequently by checking it out and clarifying you will not only really be listening to your partner but you will be then able to respond from a place of understanding.

The benefits

The benefits are huge. Your partner will feel heard and understood. There is nothing more validating. In fact, it is even more important than agreement sometimes.

I can’t tell you how many sessions I’ve sat in where one person says, “You don’t have to agree with my point of view. I just need you to understand what I am saying.”

When we are truly listening and seeking to understand our partner, it is so much easier to have empathy for them.

In conclusion

Listening is vital to forming and maintaining healthy communication in relationships. We won’t agree on everything, but it is important to understand each other. And to do that we need to get good at listening. Check it out what your partner means, enquire, clarify, respond.

You will find your relationships deepen. Your partner will quickly pick up that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying and they will give more of themselves to you.

For more on how to listen: