When you talk you are only repeating what you already know, but if you listen you might learn something new.” – Dalai Lama

Communication is often listed as one of the most important things for a healthy marriage. Happy couples say “We communicate well.”, but what does that mean exactly?

For effective communication to take place, in other words for a message to be heard, accepted and maybe even understood, there has to be an attentive, skilled listener. The better you listen the better your communication skills will be.

In Imago we believe that Communication is about taking turns to listen.

Good listening is a skill. It is not something we humans are naturally good at. Listening resembles a muscle. It requires training, persistence, effort, and most importantly, the intention to become a good listener.

It requires clearing your mind from internal and external noise and if this isn’t possible, postponing a conversation for when you can truly listen without being distracted.

Next time you listen to your partner, try some of the following tips:

  1. Give 100% of your attention, or do not listen. Put aside any distractions (smartphones, laptops, TVs etc.)
  2. Look at your partner and keep looking even if they do not look back at you. Constant eye contact lets the speaker feel that you are listening.
  3. Stay quiet and attentive and resist the urge to interrupt before the speaker indicates that they are done for the moment.
  4. Listen without jumping to conclusions, judging and interpreting what you hear. You may notice your judgmental thoughts but push them aside. If you notice that you lost track of the conversation due to your judgments, apologise to the speaker that your mind was distracted, and ask them to repeat.
  5. Listen authentically and intentionally without “going through the motions” and pretending to listen when your mind is wandering elsewhere. Your partner can pick up micro-changes in your facial expression and body language that will make them feel disconnected and they will “know” you are not really listening.
  6. Many people complain that their partners are always too ready to fix and suggest solutions when all they want them to do is LISTEN. Try to understand, show empathy for their feelings and experiences without offering solutions.
  7. Ask for more. You can shape great conversations by asking powerful open-ended questions that benefit the speaker and invite them to “speak their mind” or delve deeper into their thoughts and experiences. One of the best questions you can ask is, “Is there more?” or simply an inviting, “Tell me more”.
  8. After your partner has shared with you, offer them a summary or mirror back what you have heard so that they know you really have listened and can give them back what you have heard “in a nutshell”. This is a very powerful way of demonstrating true listening.
  9. Reflect – When you finish a conversation, reflect on your listening and think about missed opportunities as well as moments of excellent listening and how that benefited you and your partner.
  10. Try it next time and keep practicing! Remember, upskilling your listening requires effort, intention and persistence. The rewards are priceless!

A good way to learn to become a good listener is to consult with a skilled Imago therapist or facilitator who can guide you through a structured process that will impact the experience of safety and connection in all your relationships.

By Fred de Villiers and Carol-Ann Dixon – Imago professional facilitators