Do you ever feel impatient while your partner is talking– like you can’t wait for them to finish so you can respond? Does one of you jump to conclusions that create misunderstandings?
This is pretty common in relationships and results from poor listening.
Now when I say listening, I don’t just mean being quiet while our partner speaks. I mean understanding the intention and meaning of our partner, without our own interpretations getting in the way.
This is hard, because we tend to hear what others say through the lenses of what we already know.
If you or your partner feel misunderstood in the relationship, try these two powerful listening skills exercise below.
These are designed to shift your awareness from responding (analyzing, interpreting, formulating a position) to receiving (taking in the other with a “beginner’s mind.”)
Listening Skills Exercises: Two Ways To Really Hear Your Partner
The first step in true listening is receiving. All communications are a give and take. But real connection starts first with taking in our partner as an “other,” separate from us. In order to do this, we must set aside our own agendas and frameworks.
Here is what works:
1) Holding the Space
The purpose of this exercise is to practice giving your full attention. This entails energetically “giving the floor” to your partner and requires total presence of mind.
To begin, ask your partner to share something that is on their mind. It could be anything: problems at work, frustrations at work, parenting challenges, etc.
While they are speaking, follow these guidelines:
Give zero advice. (And if, only after this exercise, you feel inclined to offer advice, always ask first).
Relax your body. Breathe deeply. Stay present in your body so you can notice and release your own reactions.
Place your intention on understanding. What is the spirit of their message? What are they really saying? If you don’t understand, by all means ask questions to clarify.
Note any inner desire to jump in. (If you want to say something, check your motivation. Is there judgment? Do you want to fix it?)
Give cues that you are listening. Eye contact, nodding, asking questions are all examples of cues that show your partner they have your full attention.
2) Being Present for Feelings
The purpose of this exercise is to share a feeling in detail with our partner, and then in turn here them share their reaction. Both sides communicate with microscopic honesty. This approach comes from Gay Hendricks’ book Conscious Loving, and promotes create greater awareness of our own internal responses and the ability to share in a non-blaming way.
This works best when each partner gets a turn.
Begin by sitting with each other. This is better face to face, but whatever is most comfortable will work.
Choose who will communicate first. Don’t worry, you will each get a turn.
Communicate and share what you are feeling to your partner. This should be an emotion, like fear, sadness, joy, rather than thoughts.
Notice where you feel it in your body. Describe the feeling in detail.
The listening partner just listens. That means try to be with that feeling as the communicating partner tells the microscopic truth about it.
The listening partner then shares their experience while listening. This only happens once the communicating partner feels done.
Communicating partner: “I feel my fear most in my stomach areas but also in the back of my neck. I feel this sense of dread in my stomach. The back of my neck feels crawly like someone’s pulling my skin up over my head.”
Listening partner: “It was so hard to stay here. I found myself thinking about dinner and what I need to do at work tomorrow. I noticed I pulled back when you were describing your fear. I think maybe I keep busy so I don’t have to feel my fear.”
This can be done with any feeling: Anger, sadness, joy, excitement etc. Always start with asking yourself “where do I feel this in my body?”
Let one person communicate several different feelings before you switch roles.
While this second exercise works best with both partners participating, these listening skills exercises can be done alone as well. You could either try to communicate your feelings with microscopic honesty, or share your reactions the next time your partner communicates something important to you.
Remember, the foundation of all connection with others is feeling heard and deeply. Without good listening, this is not possible. There really is nothing more important in relationships.
Try these out and let me know what you experience. Have questions? Let me know in the comments below.