One of the most important relationship skills is deep listening. I’m using the word “deep” to point to the necessity of putting your full attention on it, consistently. It can’t be done casually, occasionally, or just by one person. It must become the norm for what you both do. As with any skill, it takes practice and intention.
Deep listening is more than just hearing the words someone says. It’s an opportunity to connect at a meaningful level. It’s about fully engaging with them, understanding their emotions, and truly connecting with their message.
It may seem obvious why this is important, but very few people and couples do it. Here, I’m going to give you two tools to learn and practice. If you do them, your communication will greatly improve.
First is mirroring. You know this already. It’s simply repeating back what you heard in your own words. This sounds simple but most couples don’t do it. I think it’s because they think it’s not necessary. How could I not know what my partner is saying? Of course I do! And how could my partner not know what I’m saying? I’m being perfectly clear!
Well, I have news for you. Much of the time, moreso when you disagree, you are not on the same page. You’re close. And you think you’re talking about the same thing. But something is off. And being off just a little raises the risk of miscommunication.
When you disagree, it’s imperative that you start the conversation by making sure you are both crystal clear on what each other is saying. If you don’t, your convo will likely go off the rails at some point.
The process is simple:
- One person (the sender) says what’s on their mind.
- The listener repeats it back in their own words.
- The sender makes clarifications as necessary.
- The listener repeats it back again.
- Repeat until no clarifications are necessary.
- Then the listener asks, “Is there more?”
The question, “Is there more?” can be disarming. Have you ever been asked this question? I doubt it. Whatever tension exists at this point tends to dissipate. It’s an effective tool to make each other feel cared for and cared about.
The second tool is validation. This is a critical part of good communication that is rarely done well. The point of validation is to make the sender feel heard and understood. If you tell your partner something important, isn’t that how you want to feel?
An important aspect of validation is that it has nothing to do with agreement. You are not agreeing or disagreeing with anything.
When you validate someone, you are telling them that “What you are saying makes sense to me.” And this is in the context of their experience, meaning it’s based on how they see it, not on how you see it.
This is important. You must disregard your point of view during validation. You’ll have plenty of time to express that afterward. The sole purpose is to tell the other person that you hear them and you understand them.
During both mirroring and validation, remember the basics. These practices are a constant requirement of deep listening:
- Make and keep eye contact.
- Keep body and facial language respectful and kind.
- Don’t give advice or opinion unless requested.
- Eliminate all distractions including phones, children and pets.
- Do not interrupt.
- Keep your emotions in check.
- Withhold judgement, defensiveness and criticism.
When you both are on the same page, and you both feel heard and understood, you’ve created a place of safety and trust. You can express yourselves freely without fear of judgement or criticism. You can resolve your differences in a healthy way. You will look forward to talking to each other and not be avoidant.
According to psychologist Carl Rogers, deep listening is at the heart of every healthy relationship. It’s also the most effective way to bring about growth and change. Those who feel heard tend to be more open, more democratic in their ways, and less defensive. Deep listeners refrain from making judgments and provide a safe space for their partners.