“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
― Ernest Hemingway
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey
“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G. K. Chesterton
The Secret Tool to Get Your Partner
to LISTEN to You
Do you want to know how to get your partner to listen to you?
Read on, and I’ll explain.
At our core, one of the things we want most of all is to feel heard, to feel understood. We want this whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s stronger than our desire to be agreed with.
It’s great to be agreed with, but what we want even more than agreement is just to feel heard.
If you’ve ever felt, Won’t somebody just LISTEN to me??, it’s likely a manifestation of this core desire to feel understood.
If someone agrees with us too soon, it feels like we’re being placated. It feels almost like we’re being condescended to, and we don’t quite believe it if we’re agreed with too quickly.
But if they put agreement aside for just a little bit and focus on helping us feel like what we said got through somehow, like they could identify with what we said, it makes a big difference. If we do that, we feel like we can relax. Until we can relax, until we feel heard, it seems we keep hitting our head against the wall.
Repetition and Yelling
That often leads to repeating ourselves. Maybe it’s because we just weren’t saying it clearly enough, or maybe the other party wasn’t listening.
And so we say it again. And again.
Sometimes it’s completely unconscious that we repeat ourselves. But we do it in hopes of finally being heard.
Now, if repeating ourselves doesn’t work, sometimes we think, maybe they couldn’t hear me and I wasn’t loud enough. And so we start to amp up the volume, which turns into YELLING.
Neither repeating yourself nor yelling is very effective.
Think of times when somebody kept saying the same thing over and over to you.
It probably sounded like they thought you were dumb. That was annoying or downright insulting.
And when somebody raises their voice, it feels threatening. It’s like there’s an argument coming, and that feels aggressive.
Oftentimes, we do both. We not only repeat ourselves, but we also raise the volume.
That’s just not very effective.
The Secret Tool
If you want, more than anything else, to be understood and to feel heard, what’s the secret tool?
Here’s the tool: Help them feel heard and understood!
In other words, do for your partner what I said is our biggest want.
When you help him or her feel understood, you’ll get what you most want.
If you use this power the right way (to get them to feel heard and understood), you’ll see them start to relax. You’ll see them maybe drop their shoulders. You’ll hear a sigh (letting out unconsciously held air).
That’s a sign that they’re relaxing. Inside they’re experiencing, Finally! I feel heard!
There’s something invisible that’s happening, too: Their ears are beginning to open.
That means, they’re getting ready to listen.
All of these signs together indicate that they can now hear us.
Recap: When you hear and understand them, they’re more likely to be in a position to be the Receiver and listen to you.
Now they’re more likely to receive what you have to send (as you become the new Sender).
When they can effectively receive from you, you’re going to feel heard.
If they can be an effective Receiver, you’ll feel understood.
That’s what this secret tool can yield!
You Must Listen First!
To the degree that you were effective in listening to them, in being a Receiver for them, then it’s likely that your next Send will be received more effectively.
If you practice listening, your partner will better follow the example you set and do what they saw you do.
Here’s what you did to listen effectively:
- listen (without thinking of what you’ll say next),
- repeat back what you heard (to make sure you got it all or to show you’re really listening),
- and then show them how you understand from their point of view.
When you’ve done that for your partner, you have a much great chance of them doing it for you—your core need (of feeling heard) will then be met.
How do you get them to listen to you? By doing it for them first.
That is the secret tool.
Practice Makes . . . ?
If you practice, you’ll get better and better. That’s why we practice anything!
The first time you threw a basketball, it probably didn’t go through the hoop.
But you didn’t say, “that didn’t work! I’m never gonna do that again!”
Instead, you learned to keep trying until you were successful. You learned the value of practice.
The same holds true for this exercise in basic communication.
If we keep practicing, we’ll get better at listening so that, when our partner is talking, we don’t think about what we’re going to say next. We just listen.
Like a sponge, we soak up the Sender’s request.
The Sender Has One Job
The Sender’s one job is to make a request, and it can be in one of three forms:
- They make a request that we start doing something we haven’t been doing, or
- they request we stop doing something that they don’t like or isn’t working for them, or
- they request we simply listen. “I just want to feel heard.”
As your partner “sends” effectively (making one of those three forms of request: start this, stop this, or just listen to me), then you practice listening without thinking what you’re going to say as soon as they stop talking.
Once their request is done, then you repeat back something of what you heard.
You don’t have to be a parrot repeating everything verbatim—that would get annoying. Instead, it might sound something like, “Let me get this straight: you said you want the paper towels to go over the front of the roll because when your hands are wet, you want to grab a paper towel without getting water on the whole roll.”
That’s the repeat step: “this is what I heard you say, and I want to make sure I got it all.”
It’ll take practice because it’s not something that will come naturally. But if you practice, it’ll go more and more smoothly.
That leads to your third step as the receiver. I call it the understanding step.
The Understanding Step: The Hardest and Most Important
You’ve already listened. You’ve already repeated back what you heard to confirm you got everything (and that you got it correctly).
But now, in the understanding step, your main goal is NOT to understand.
That’s probably a surprise because you think you’re supposed to understand in the “understanding step.” But that’s only partly true.
The main goal in the understanding step is to help the Sender feel understood.
The goal is that the sender, your partner, now feels heard.
You want them to feel understood.
And how do you do that? Here’s some quick and easy catchphrases to achieve this goal.
If you say, “Wow, hearing you state it like that, it makes perfect sense to me,” they just might feel understood.
It’s another way of saying “I understand you” by putting yourself in their position. It helps them get how you understand so it really soaks in.
More catchphrases you can try are, “you know, putting myself in your position” or “listening to it from your perspective helps me understand what it is you’re saying. Before, I was just thinking about it from my perspective, and I was coming up with all these reasons why it wasn’t right or valid. But when I put myself in your position, I get it.”
If you approach it that way, then your partner will feel in their gut that you understand. They’re going to feel understood.
You’ve just wielded the secret tool.
Its purpose is to get him or her to comfortably switch places with you so you can now be a Sender, and they can try to be a Receiver like you were.
There’s no guarantee they’ll be able to follow your example as Receiver, but chances are they’ll do the steps a little better than they might have without hearing you.
If they can learn from you even a little bit, you stand a much better chance of feeling understood and heard yourself.
This might be one of the first times that you feel truly heard by your partner.
It’ll help you relax, just like you saw your partner relax when you exercised the tool.
The biggest secret to get your partner to really listen to you: you listen first.
Why is this so important? Because you deserve to be listened to.
You deserve to feel heard and understood. And this is how you get it.
If you sit around waiting for somebody to listen, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
But if you utilize this tool (that not many people understand), and if you practice it and practice it, you’re bound to get more skilled.
And the more skilled you become, you’ll feel more understood!