Effective Listening

True listening is taking the time (and effort) to truly consider what the other person is really saying; not only hearing their words.

Effective listeners listen
to take in information,
to think about it,
and to utilize it.

Listening to learn about the other deepens your relationship.

  • When you are listening to learn, you attract loving feelings from others.
  • Virtually everyone likes to be listened to, and will feel love toward those who genuinely listen to them.

The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.

– Fran Lebowitz

When you interrupt someone, you are basically telling them that you don’t want to waste even a few seconds to hear what they are saying.

 Tell your spouse that you will let them talk and  that you will not interrupt. “You talk. I’ll listen.”

Why this works:  When we know that we won’t be interrupted and we have time to speak, it changes what we speak about.  We can slow down and share more because we aren’t afraid that we have to get the main point out before we are interrupted.
Additionally, when the listening person knows that they can’t interrupt, they listen deeper and better. (Usually.)

Sometimes, silence is the most important part of the communication.

Being quiet doesn’t simply mean not talking while the other is talking. Rather, it is to actually take some moments to silently reflect before responding, giving everyone time to think and absorb what was said.

DIGESTING ALOUD what you hear is a helpful way to let your spouse know what you learned when you were listening.

Digesting is allowing yourself the time and headspace to process the information that you just received so you can truly absorb it.

In the context of effective listening, digesting aloud means  that you

  • think about the information that you just received
  • mull it over aloud  (think it through)
  • add your thoughts on the subject, as applicable

“So, what I understand from what you shared …”

The number one rule of deep listening is: Listen to feelings FIRST. 

  1. Whenever you sense that feelings – yours or your spouse’s – are possibly more important than the actual topic, make listening to those feelings as a priority.
  • Notice as the  emotions arise – furrowed brow, a quivering voice, a teary eye, chuckle, clenched fists.  Those signs usually mean it’s about how they are feeling about the issue.
  1. Explore those feelings.
  • Don’t assume you know from a facial expression. Ask. “Your hands are clenched. What is going on for you?”, “I noticed you chuckled, what is so funny?”
  1. Then return to the topic.

Attuning – noticing, hearing and responding to feelings – signals deepest caring This builds intimacy and closeness. And it helps you know what is important to each other.



Verbalize your empathy*. Respond to your spouse’s feelings.
*Empathy: the ability to understand the emotions of others.

To respond with empathy,

  • Listen to learn.
  • Digest aloud what makes sense to you about your spouse’s feelings.
    “It makes sense  to me that you’d feel that way. I didn’t realize that when I …”
  • Ask further questions to explore the situation.
    “What happened today that brought up that feeling?”

Be watchful not to …

    • React in a way that sounds critical. “You shouldn’t feel that way…”
    • React defensively. “How could you feel that way when I just …”
    • Say nothing so spouse feels left hanging.
    • Think that you have to feel the same way as your spouse.
    • Give solutions.

Understand your spouse’s perspective AND express that understanding in a way that they can appreciate.  You must express it to really show your empathy. You don’t have to agree with it, just understand why they feel that way. “I can see why you see it that way.”  Don’t try to fix the problem until after you provide some empathy.

This is a possible flow for such a conversation:

 Your spouse expresses a discontent.

 You reply ”What I heard you say is … [summarize/ paraphrase]”.

↓ Your spouse can then add or clarify.

↓ Continue until your spouse has finished sharing all.

 Summarize.  “What I got from your sharing is [summarize]”.

 And then don’t talk about it for some time (an hour at least)  so that you can really think about it.

Why this works:  When your spouse feels that you understand their perspective, it encourages them to relax and let go of the stress they’ve been holding onto.

Braided Dialog:

The ‘braided dialog’ builds on each other’s 

words; it intertwines your thoughts and ideas. 

One of you speaks. The other digests aloud, then adds more perspective.  The first digests this new information and then adds more, and so on.  Such conversations bond you as a couple.

Braiding a dialog needs all the listening and talking skills:

  • listening to learn
  • responding by digesting aloud
  • adding your viewpoint
  • listening in a bi-lateral manner (taking both spouse’s concerns seriously)

Some ineffective dialog styles.

Most conversations are not strictly one style – some of each might creep into a dialog.  Look out for ineffective elements.

Parallel Dialogues: Neglecting to pick up on what each is saying; like each is having their own conversation. This can feel like rejection of what was just said.

Oppositional Dialogues: Negating what the other just said.

The wrong way to interrupt:

  • Not allowing one to finish sharing important information, before the other jumps in. “I know what you are going to say.”
  • Negating what the other said before the thought is completed.

When it’s OK to interrupt:
Of course, you’ll be polite.

  • Supporting and building on what the other said. “To add to that…”, “While we are on that topic…” ,”Before you move on, I’d like to say something.”
  • Breaking into a monologue – to make it into smaller chunks of information. “Let me see if I got what you said so far…”
  • Adding energy to the conversation – “For sure!”, “You’re so right!”
  • Helps the speaker know how the listener is receiving what they are saying.
  • Asking questions to prevent misunderstandings, confusion and missing the point. “I’m not sure I fully understand. Can you say it in different words…”  “Sorry for interrupting, but I want to make sure I understand.”

When you feel it is worthwhile to interrupt:

  • It’s best to wait until the person speaking stops to catch a breath before speaking up.
  • Thank the other for allowing you to interrupt. “Thank you for letting me jump in here.”

Words you might use:

  • “Excuse me”
  • “I need to say something here”
  • “Do you mind if I interrupt?”
  • “I have an idea/thought that relates to what you just said.”
  • “I’d like to add something to that.”
  • “I beg your pardon, but I need to say something.”
  • “Can I jump in here?”

NOTE: Sometimes, interrupting effectively adds to a ‘braided dialog’.

DISCUSS: Interruptions

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