Written by: Rachel Koutnik, LCSW

Are you a good listener? Some people think they are good listeners, but the reality more than often is that poor listening skills are the culprit behind feeling misunderstood, disconnected and the precursor to all those unnecessary arguments.

Listening is an essential skill to enhance to deepen connections with others, become more curious and clear about your own feelings, and increase empathy towards others’ perspectives.

Effective listening occurs when both partners can clearly share their thoughts and feelings, both work to fully understand what is being communicated by the other person, and both can share anything that resonates from the information that is presented. Unfortunately, attempts to communicate thoughts, wants, needs and feelings can turn into people reacting to one another, rather than listening to the person speaking and trying to understand one another’s point of view.

As a therapist, I have observed many conversations between clients and have noticed there are patterns that occur when clients are having difficulty communicating with each other. Initially, both parties take turns attempting to communicate thoughts, feelings and/or experiences. However, once the party that should be listening becomes emotionally triggered by something that has been said, the listener feels compelled to jump into the conversation, disregarding the speakers’ thoughts and feelings. The listener ends up attempting to defend their reactions and consequently the speaker is not being heard. This can lead to the speaker becoming guarded, disconnected and may even lead to the speaker acting out, rolling their eyes or moving away from the person listening.

This reacting to what is being said rather than listening to the speaker adds up to tons of missed opportunities for connection and deeper levels of understanding.

In working with clients, I use a simple script to lay the groundwork for effective listening. It is best to practice these steps when you and your partner are calm, have a space free of distractions and have time to honor what will be shared.

5 Basic Steps to Effective Listening:

  1. Person A starts the conversation by sharing their thoughts and feelings about a situation, personal experience, concern or positive interaction in the relationship, etc. Beginning with an “I” statement such as “I feel…” or “I think…”
  2. Person B repeats what Person A has said concluding with “Did I hear you correctly?”
  3. Person A agrees with what Person B has said or can clarify, rephrase, or repeat what they originally said if they feel their words were not fully heard or misinterpreted.
  4. Steps 1 and 2 are repeated until Person A feels Person B has understood their thought or point of view.
  5. Person B can share any reactions, feedback and feelings about what person A said. Roles can now be reversed and Person B can start at step 1.

Do not be fooled by how simple this script appears to be. Initially, both parties might think that the conversation feels unnatural and time consuming, and that is okay. Taking the time to try to effectively communicate is a good indication that you and your partner are doing your best to fully listen to one another. Learning a new way of communicating can be a frustrating process, but the results can help partners feel more respected and more deeply understood.

If you, you and your family or you and your partner would like to improve your listening skills and deepen your connections by learning more about effective communication skills please call Symmetry Counseling and we will connect you with one of our clinicians.