The key to great communication? Start listening……

The key to great communication? Start listening……

So often we feel frustrated that our kids, partners, parents, and many others in our lives won’t listen to us! Why can’t they stop and hear the pearls of wisdom we have to offer, the instructions that need to be heard to simply get a family out of the door, or sometimes the pain that we are in?

There’s many reasons why communication breaks down. So often when someone is talking to us we are away in our minds preparing the next thing we are going to say, especially in the heat of an argument or when the message being sent makes us feel hurt, upset or distressed. Other times the “listener” is simply thinking about the next thing that needs to be done i.e. the upcoming meeting at work, the missing piece to the lego space station, or what to wear to the 21st party that’s starting in 2 hours.

When offering pearls of wisdom, we often have such a need to share our brilliance that we fail to think through the critical factors that determine receptivity to the message: i.e. does the person actually want my advice, and have I correctly understood their situation, feelings and needs and communicated that I understand these? Failing to take these factors into account will ensure that the pearls are ignored, tolerated, or worst thrown back at you despite best intentions.

One of our truly common human needs is to be “heard.” To be listened to with interest, to have our feelings validated, to be told that the listener “gets us” and to experience empathy from the listener. Think about the great conversations you’ve had and no doubt these would have been the defining features.  You probably walked away from that conversation feeling elated, satisfied, and really understood.

Now think of an argument you’ve had recently – how hard did you try to get your message across? How many different ways did you say it? Did you bring in ammunition from previous arguments to try to support your point and get the other person to listen? We all do this, but unless the person you are arguing with is the Dalai Lama (in which case he wouldn’t even enter into the argument 😉 you weren’t successful in using argument based tactics to get heard, feel validated, or get some empathy. Often when we’re in pain, we regress to a childish yelling and stomping to get what we want – i.e. be heard, held, and receive empathy. Unfortunately, this childish yelling and stomping actually decreases the likelihood that the other person will give us what we need as it is so repelling.

So what to do? The first step is to change the person you can change…. Yourself. Cultivating and developing your own listening skills will necessarily flow on to those around you. As a parent, you become the role model for your children’s communication strategies, and as a partner, you reduce the tension by truly listening and inviting openness into your relationship.

The following 3 steps in any conversation will convey the message that you are truly listening and interested in what the other is saying.


First start with mirroring

Mirroring is active listening followed by accurately reflecting back the “content” of the message: Paraphrasing without adding judgment or interpretation. Mirroring indicates that you are willing to leave your own thoughts and feelings for the moment (as you can’t mirror well when you are preparing your own response) and attempt to understand another from their point of view.

Let me see if I understand

            I heard you say that …. Or you said….

Am I getting it? Did I get that?

Is there something I missed or is there any more about that?


Follow up with validation

Validation is communicating that the information you are receiving and mirroring “makes sense.” It indicates that you can see the other’s point of view AND that it makes sense. To validate does not mean that you agree with the other’s point of view, but rather it recognizes that they have their own point of view and it’s valid.

I can understand that you would think/feel that ……

I can see how you would see it that way because……….

What you’re saying makes sense to me………….

Finally Empathise

Empathy recognizes the feelings of the other, and creates a closeness. This is a deep level of communication and reduces defensiveness and barriers, whilst at the same time communicating acceptance of the other.

I can imagine when that happens you might feel….

            I can see you’re feeling……..

            I really get a sense of your anger, sadness, fear……. It must feel horrible.

            Is that what you’re feeling?

I encourage you to give it a go, it’s definitely challenging, but so powerful!


Mirroring, validating & empathizing: Adapted from Imago Relationships International