Often when I observe couples interacting, I see them engaging in what I would name Conversational Listening.
Conversational listening is more about responding than listening. People engaged in conversational listening are looking for an opportunity to add to the conversation, or to correct what was said.
This can be a perfectly fine way to communicate with each other, depending on the subject matter at hand. If you’re discussing world events, conversational listening can be appropriate.
Anything more personal, emotional, or even difficult requires a deeper listening practice. Listening is actually very difficult to do, much harder than talking!
The Self Qualities of Calm and Curiosity are All You Need for Better Listening
When you find yourself in a conversation that requires more of you, bring your Self qualities of Calm and Curiosity to the table.
If you’re feeling nervous or caught off-guard, you can bring calm back into your body by noticing and deepening your breathing. Feeling calm is contagious! Calm will help you be more “in the moment” with your partner, and you’ll help put your partner at ease as well.
This is especially important after you have stepped up with Courage and said something that was difficult for you in your relationship. This really is a perfect time to breathe, get calm, and watch, listen and learn.
An Introduction to ‘Horizontal’ Listening
Instead of engaging in conversational listening with your partner, I suggest horizontal listening. I use this term because you are going to stretch out what your partner says to you. As the listener, you may feel like you are going nowhere new…and then quite suddenly it is all new.
Imagine your partner says, “My morning routines are important to me. They feel more like a ritual.”
- With conversational listening, you might respond, “Not for me. I like to sleep in so I end up running around like crazy so I can get out the door on time.”
- With horizontal listening, you might respond, “What do you mean by ritual?” and “Tell me more about how it feels good to you.”
Notice in the example how when you listen horizontally, you are not adding anything new. You get interested more deeply in whatever the other person presents in the conversation.
Other Questions You Can Ask to Keep the Conversation & Connection Flowing
Stay open with your communication by using language that invites opening. I call this “wonder thinking.”
“I’m wondering” is a great starting point. Being Curious is good for you and good for your partner and keep the communication and connection open. So really wonder (aloud).
If you find parts of you standing up inside of you just desperate to interrupt, calmly let them know they can talk later. Now you are wondering, and exploring what your partner wants you to know.
It can be hard to mute those loud voices inside and just listen. Here are some questions I’ve found that put your focus back on your partner and begin to unpack what your partner has to say to you by wondering and listening horizontally.
- I wonder ….
- What do you mean when you say __________(fill in the blank)?
- What works for you?
- If it worked what would it look like to you?
- What are your concerns?
- What do you usually do and how has that worked for you?
- What kind of support would feel good to you?
Bringing your Self’s Curiosity to the conversation helps expand the knowledge for both of you and strengthens your connection. In my most recent podcast I talk about the other components of a relationship system.