Listening is one of the most fundamental skills that a person can bring to a relationship, but it’s a skill that many people seem to lack.
Here’s an exercise that will give you and your partner an express-entry passport into the wonderful world of listening.
You can tell when it’s about to happen. Your partner says something. You tense up. You inhale sharply. You open your mouth to object…and are about to change a conversation into an argument or a confrontation of 5-alarm conflagration.
Next time you find yourself in that situation, for your own sake and the good of your relationship, convince your partner to join you in this exercise:
- Take 3 deep breaths
- Choose one of you to go first (let's use the names "John" and "Jane" in our example below)
- Jane says exactly what she wants to say, what she is thinking and feeling, to John.
- Jane then asks John to repeat back to her what he heard her say. Not, mind you, what John feels or what John thinks, but just what John heard Jane say.
- If John does not get it right in the judgment of Jane, then John has to keep trying.
- If John wants help, he can ask Jane to clarify.
- When John gets it right, Jane says yes that is how I felt and that is what I meant.
- Now reverse it. Change roles. John expresses how he felt about what Jane originally said and about the issue at hand.
- Jane now repeats back to John exactly what he said, trying over and over until she gets it right.
- When Jane gets it right, John lets her know.
Congratulations! That is the end of the exercise. You have successfully heard and been heard! The conversation ends there. And the cool thing is, there is no right and no wrong. The lesson here: no one’s opinion counts for more than another’s. There are only two subjective experiences at work here – and the job of the couple in these situations is to be able to appreciate that two subjectivities exist. Once that happens, it is much easier to work out a mutually acceptable solution to the problem.