We don’t always see eye to eye with our partners, and sometimes we have trouble communicating in these situations. Unfortunately, that often leads to conflict between the two of you. Do you end up going “out” with feelings like sadness, anger, or frustration? Or do you go “in,” shut down, and stop talking? However this conflict shows up in your relationship, it’s time for you and your partner to try horizontal listening.
Let me just say it right now: conflict happens. You can love your partner with all of your heart, and conflict will still happen. It’s normal! Listening horizontally improves communication, and it will help you connect better over these issues. Think of this tactic as a GPS to help you and your partner navigate through conflict, and come out safely on the other side.
How many of you have gone into a conversation with your partner with the best intentions, only to have it end up in anger, sadness, or resentment? I know I have! Let’s decide to show up differently this time, and ask our partners to join us.
3 Things to Know Before You Try Horizontal Listening
This tactic might be new to some of you. Here are 3 steps to follow before you begin, to help your conversation be more successful:
- Be intentional. Make sure both you and your partner are able to engage right now.
- Get calm. Don’t let the ghosts of past conversations dictate your meeting today. Take deep breaths, and remember: your partner is on your side. Choose a calm and quiet place for your discussion.
- Take turns. Talk, then listen. Listen, then talk. The role of the listener is a difficult one for sure. Don’t interrupt each other — your next turn will come.
With these 3 steps in place, you can show up ready to be curious and compassionate with your partner.
Horizontal, Not Vertical
What do I mean, exactly, by “horizontal listening”? Essentially, you go forwards, towards your partner, instead of upwards. You work with the words your partner gives you instead of adding new ones into the mix. Vertical listening involves advice giving and problem solving. Not so when you go horizontal! As the listener, you take what the speaker says, and you get curiouser and curiouser towards it.
How is this different from conversational listening? Here’s an example.
Your partner: “I feel allergic to mess. I get so agitated and unhappy when my home is messy.”
Conversational response: “Oh, not me! I function so much better in mess. It makes me feel more creative.”
Horizontal response: “Really? Tell me more about this. What do you mean exactly by ‘allergic’?”
See the difference? In this method, you get curious towards the words your partner says, and ask them to do so as well. This way, you can be sure you use their meaning, and not your own meaning. Don’t assume anything!
Here are some good phrases to use to get curious towards what your partner says:
- “I wonder…”
- “What do you mean when you say…”
- “Tell me what works for you.”
If you’ve fallen into the habit of having the same conversations — or conflicts — over and over, horizontal listening will help you break out of that pattern. You’ll be amazed to see how this method transforms your conversation.
Don’t Be Afraid to Call “Time-out”
As with anything, effective horizontal listening takes practice. Don’t be afraid to start over or temporarily abort if:
- Things get too emotional
- You find yourself going vertical
- Someone shuts down or gets sad
Rather than force the conversation from that point, take a time out! Either person can initiate this at any point, and the other person must respect it. Just remember the main rule of the adult time out: you will come back and try again within 24 hours.
This may be new to you, and that’s okay. Practice on smaller issues before you tackle the larger ones. After all, you don’t learn to swim effectively by throwing yourself into the deep end of a pool! You might keep your head above water, but you won’t feel at ease. Learn the basics, get comfortable, and move forwards from there.
Connect, Relate, Repeat
Everything on my website is there for one simple reason: so I can help more people than just those of you who show up in my office. I love to see the commitment you all have to improving your lives through better connections. After all, every single one of us is a work in progress!
Don’t hesitate to take advantage of the resources on my website, including guided meditations, breathing exercises, and my books. Thank you so much for joining me today. I’ll be back with another episode on July 25th.