To be an intentional couple, one of the core skills that must be mastered is the art of listening. We have been given gross information about what listening is and how we should do it. Some folks think that they should be making grand facial expressions while mutter “uh huh…”, nodding their head and wrinkling their brow to show that they are listening. But listening is something entirely different. Today we are going to talk about why we listen and how we alter our approaches to listening.

We listen for four key reasons: to allow someone to vent, to help them unpack something in their head, to seek understanding, and perhaps to resolve something. Let’s look at each of them independently.

Allowing someone to vent: This is probably the easiest form of listening and is probably the most commonly participated form of listening – except it is too often done at the wrong time. Allowing someone to vent is when someone we care about needs to run on about something. They don’t really need anything from us but need to feel that someone is listening. No real confirmation is needed other than an occasion “really?” This often happens when I pick my daughter up from school and she wants to prattle on about everything that happened in her day but doesn’t really need me to know all of the details. She has held it together all day and getting in the car is the first time she can let her hair down – and it comes out verbally. We have an agreement if there is something that I need to know she will let me know. (I can already hear some folks saying that I am losing an opportunity to connect with her, but can she really connect with me while she is offloading the stress of her day? I will have greater success when she is more present with me!) Unfortunately, too many people default to this way of listening when a higher form of listening is desired.

Helping someone unpack something: This is an important but low stakes form of listening. There are many times that someone is struggling with a concept, situation, or problem. They don’t need or want us to solve it for them, nor do they really want our input or feedback. What they are really looking for is someone that will be a target for them to talk it out so they can sort through it themselves to make sense of it. Often talking something out brings the greatest clarity – and we need a target for that. In these situations, asking questions such as Why is that important? What do you want to happen next? What is the next thing you think you will do? What would success look like? allows the other person to sort through their own thoughts and create their own plans. We don’t need to understand or agree with the outcomes because it has nothing to do with us. You will know you did a great job as the other person begins to gain confidence, clarity and assurance that they are capable.

Seeking understanding: There are times that we listen because we need to confirm to someone that we care about that we understand them and what they are trying to express. The storyteller needs to be confirmed that we get it. This form of listening is bridge building. Listening with this intention allows the speaker to feel seen and heard (and who doesn’t want that?) In my book, Couples by Intention: Creating and Cultivating Relationships that Matter! this form of listening is described in the section on Listening Hours (and more to come in another blog post!)

Finding resolution: This is probably the listening that most couples think they are supposed to be doing most frequently. It requires problem solving, advocacy, posturing, and more. However, in reality, the greatest challenge to this form of listening is to ensure that we are only processing one issue at a time, not dealing with scope creep and throwing the kitchen sink at each other. To find real resolution, we can only listen to one issue at a time, resolve it and then take on another. To be a good resolution listener, it is important to determine what the core problem is, focus on one concern at a time and not to be reactive to the initial concerns that are presents as they are usually not the real issue.

 

If you are looking to grow your listening skills, I recommend reading Couples by Intention: Creating and Cultivating Relationships that Matter! If you would like to discuss more, please reach out to me at elliott@insightbrookline.com