Article Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

Listening to Understand Instead of Respond


Aug. 14, 2021 Psychology Today

As a couples therapist, a problem I see with every client is communication. More specifically, listening skills. Often, we may hear our partner’s words but not really know what it is they are saying or mean. Being a good listener means listening to understand instead of listening to respond. If we aren’t really listening then most of our communication is generally one-sided and we end up each having our own conversations. This often creates a lot of conflict in relationships.

How do I know I need to improve my listening? If you find that you often interrupt your partner or get impatient when they are speaking “too long,” you could benefit from being a better listener. Things you may hear your partner say are “You don’t get it,” “You aren’t listening,” “That’s not what I said, I feel unimportant.” This can indicate a problem with deeper understanding, especially during conflict.

When we are interested and having a positive interaction, it can be easy to listen. When there has been conflict or the subject is boring, this is usually when our listening skills start to deteriorate.

How to Be a Better Listener

Here are some tips that may help:

  • Suspend our own agenda. You can’t really listen when you are focused on what you want to say.
  • Be interested. Take a genuine interest in how your partner is feeling in the situation, if what they are saying doesn’t make sense, tune in more.
  • Be a reporter. Focus enough that you would be able to write an article about it. Sometimes taking notes can help you focus.
  • Ask questions. This is part of being interested as well, when someone asks questions for understanding, you can tell they are invested in understanding.
  • Make eye contact. Don’t look at your phone, look away, or roll your eyes. Eye contact is a great way to physically show you are listening.
  • Use minimal encouragers. Instead of staying silent, add in some acknowledgment like “mmhmm, yes, ok, that makes sense” and head nodding.
  • Avoid judgment. Focus more on understanding their perspective, find out why it is they feel the way they do.
  • Avoid advice-giving. Your partner doesn’t necessarily need your help to figure it out. If they ask for advice, that is the best time to give it.
  • Avoid defensiveness. Focus on their perspective for the time being.
  • Breathe and self-soothe if you get overwhelmed or flooded. It’s ok to ask for a break if you need one.
  • Provide a summary before you respond and give them a chance to correct or add anything.
  • Find something to validate about your partner’s feelings.
  • Ask your partner if they feel understood. If not, ask what you are missing, and if so, now it is finally your turn to respond.
Read More on Psychology Today

Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust Fund

Apply Today

All Resources

Tell Me More

What Kids Heading Back-to-School Need

Protective factors for kids as they start another uncertain school year.

Read More

The Minor Change That Made My Marriage So Much Better

As these men can attest, small adjustments can make a big difference.

Read More

This One Phrase Helps Turn A Fight Into A Problem To Solve

"Same teaming" is an effective way to stop talking past each other.
Read More

Isolated Too Long?

Here's how to cope with re-entry dating anxiety.

Read More

Here's how Social Security's looming shortfall could affect your retirement plans

Social Security's surplus reserves are expected to run out in 2033

Read More

The FDA Authorized a Booster Shot

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is approved—But Not For Everyone

Read More

To Sell Your Innovative Ideas, You Must Overcome These 4 “Frictions”

Simply making your idea sound attractive typically won’t cut it

Read More

Obesity and weight loss

Why overall calorie intake may not be so important

Read More