Do you find that sometimes you and your partner struggle to really hear and understand what each other are saying? Do you find that often discussions spiral into fights or arguments? Working to change the way you communicate with your partner will help change negative communication cycles and help reduce unproductive fights. The Speaker – Listener Technique is a simple yet effective method for slowing down a dispute or conversation and putting you on track to implement the changes you are looking for. Though simple in format, it will likely take a little effort to get used to the technique, especially if your current conversations hold little space for understanding and validating each others concerns.

Clear & Concise

The Speaker – Listener Technique includes a few structural elements to be mindful of; there are rules for the speaker, rules for the listener, and rules for the whole conversation. In order to craft a conversation that will at least make sure that you and your partner have the space to safely share your concerns, develop an understanding of where your partner is coming from and allow both of you to stay calm, these rules are helpful to follow. Active listening, intentional acknowledgement and validation of your partner’s perspectives and thoughts are a must to make this technique work.

Rules For The Speaker: 

  • Share your perspective in a concise and direct manner

This is not the time to drag in all the events of the past or to attack your partner’s character. By bringing up all of your partners faults or piling on other issues you may have, you distract from what you really want to accomplish, which is communicating about the issue or problem at hand.

This is also not the time to be excessively long-winded. Typically, we find that the longer you take to state your concern, the quicker your partner disengages. Stick to the current issue, try to state it as concisely as you can and make sure you stop frequently to make sure your partner is tracking with you.

  • Focus on conveying your thoughts, feelings or concerns about a particular issue, not what you perceive or think your partner is thinking or feeling.

Many couples get stuck in conversations when they play the assumption game. Avoid making assumptions about what your partner is thinking and instead focus on sharing where you are coming from.  Jumping to assumptions about your partner will automatically make them feel defensive, like they are being attacked or judged. None of us like to feel attacked or judged, and typically respond negatively when we feel that is what is happening.  To help your partner feel like they are engaging in a dialogue and not just rebutting to criticism, focus on what you think and feel.

Rules For The Listener: 

  • Practice Active Listening

When is the last time that you curbed that feeling of defensiveness and truly listened to what your partner is feeling or thinking? It’s not uncommon for us to feel like our understanding of an issue is the only one that matters. But when we are part of a couple, there are always two sides to a discussion, and your partners perspective matters. If you want to change tough conversations, practice Active Listening – truly listening to hear what their concerns and needs are – not listening just to respond or defend yourself.

By allowing your partner to speak without you interrupting, you are telling them that they are worth your time, you value their opinion, and that you want to understand what they are thinking and feeling.  Even if you don’t agree with your partner, you can still show them that you value them by actively listening to their concerns.

  • Repeat what you believe the Speaker has stated

Don’t just regurgitate the words verbatim but do share what you felt the main issue is for the Speaker. This is not the time to correct, argue, or even defend yourself. This is the time to make sure that you really understood what the Speaker was saying. This is often where miscommunication begins, when one does not accurately understand what the other partner’s concerns are and hears or perceives something else. When this happens, we react or respond to what our perceptions are instead of responding to what our partners concerns really are. Taking the time to actively listen to your partner, then repeat what you hear, will ensure that you have an accurate picture of what your partner is trying to say before an argument spirals out of control.

Clarify & Explore

The Speaker – Listener roles can go back and forth until both parties are satisfied that they accurately understand what has been communicated.  Once this has been established, both parties have the opportunity to correct, change, alter or clarify things they feel were misunderstood. Use open-ended questions (not ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions) to further explore what the heart of the issue or concern is. Think longer about what you would like to ask or what you need clarification on before firing off a guilt or judgement laden question.  Seek to understand, use clarifying questions and use this as an opportunity to gather more facts before making a final decision or assumption.

Additional Tips To Make The Speaker – Listener Technique Work Effectively:

  • Use ‘I’ statements and avoid ‘you’ statements

A common helpful one is “I feel…” not “You always…”

  • When the Speaker is speaking, don’t interrupt

This goes for verbal interruptions as well as non-verbal interruptions; avoid eye-rolls, or emphatic ‘hmpffs,’ crossing your arms or any other non-verbal display that signals your unhappy or upset.  You can bet if any of these are happening the conversation has already moved into a criticism-defensiveness cycle.

  • Don’t rush to find a solution

Focus on understanding what the issue or concern is,  make sure you both are understating what the main concern is, and validate your partner before moving into problem-solving mode. Not every conversation has to immediately move into finding a solution.  This particular technique is designed for changing how you communicate and demonstrating care and validation of your partner.

Give It a Try!

The roles of Speaker, Listener, and the process of going back and forth can be used in many different conversations to make sure that you both have an opportunity to structure the conversation to be the most productive that it can be. When conversations between couples get heated, it’s not uncommon for frustration, anger or resentment to build, resulting in distance and unresolved issues. It is also not uncommon for couples to find that arguments ensue when assumptions and misunderstandings are frequent.  If you’re noticing conversations with your partner leave you feeling disconnected, misunderstood or more frustrated, we encourage you to give the Speaker – Listener Technique a try.

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Adapted from James-Kangal and Whitton’s Speaker-Listener Technique.

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