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How to 'Get It'

April 01, 2015

Ask your partner if you’re a good listener. For most of us, it’s often hard to accurately grasp the main idea, particularly during a difficult conversation. And it’s harder still when we’re pseudo-listening:

  • Preparing what we’re going to say so we’re ready as soon as our partner takes a breath.
  • Comparing ourselves to the speaker. “Listen to that! He doesn’t do half as much in a day as I do, and again he’s saying he’s too tired to load the dishwasher.”
  • Identifying with what we hear and drifting off into thoughts and memories about ourselves.
  • Mind reading what’s really behind the words. “He thinks I’m a bore.” “She’s tired of our date nights.” “He’s angling to get me to agree to something.”
  • Advising others with our unsolicited solutions to their troubles.
  • Filtering out what we don’t want to hear while listening for words that fit our own agenda. “She doesn’t sound angry with me … now I can go back to thinking about the baseball game.”
  • Challenging what we hear by getting defensive, and not listening much beyond that point.
  • Humoring the speaker with words of agreement just to be nice or be liked. “Right … yes of course … absolutely …”
  • Half-listening because we’re bored and don’t know it’s okay to gently say, “I’m drifting” or “I’m too tired to give this my full attention.”

How do you know you’re really hearing your partner’s main idea, especially when the conversation goes beyond simple chit-chat or meanders into emotion-triggering territory? Don’t leave accurate listening to chance. Before responding to what you hear, before taking your turn, say: “What I hear you saying right now is … Am I right?” If your partner says you didn’t “get it,” ask to hear it once more. Then try again: “What I hear you saying is … Did I get it?” Keep going back and forth until you “get it.”

Alternatively, if you’ve just spoken and delivered an important mouthful, pause and say to your partner, “What’s the main idea you just heard?” If your partner didn’t “get it,” review it again.

Good communication takes effort. Start by catching yourself in the act of pseudo-listening, and redirecting your focus to the message being conveyed. Then check what you think you heard for accuracy. Too many debates, disputes and damaging arguments occur when partners, without realizing it, just aren’t on the same page.