A Great Gift That Everyone Will Love Is...A Listening Skills Upgrade


The gift of better listening habits enhances your self-love and also the love in your relationships.

One of the best holiday—and every day—gifts you can give yourself and also loved ones is ... an upgrade to your listening skills.

Think how much stress and distress you would be saving, for both you and for your loved ones, if when you hear a message from your small inner voice,  you listened to it.  "Maybe it would be a good idea for me to ..."  And if when others talk you are genuinely listening, listening to take what they say seriously rather than to ignore it or bat it away, wow!

Here's an example.

Yesterday a delightful young couple, let's call them Vickie and Tom, came to my office for their first session of marriage therapy. They weren’t sure what had happened, but while both Vicki and Tom got along great with their many friends, with each other they too often bickered. 

Vickie and Tom loved each other.  Yet the incessant arguing wore them both down.  What was wrong?

The tip-off came to me early in the session.  I asked them to discuss with each other a simple question, something like what had triggered their mutual decision to come for marriage help.  Tom talked to me.  Vicki talked to me. 

“Talk with each other,” I encouraged them, rolling my chair back several feet so looking at or speaking to me would be less tempting.

Vicki said a sentence or two to Tom.  Tom said nothing in response.  They both then looked again at me.  End of dialogue.

Something clearly made talking together feel too uncomfortable to risk, and talking with a third person more appealing.  What was going on?

Over the next several interactions I kept encouraging Vicky to address her comments to Tom, Tom to look and speak to Vicky, and dialogue between them to flow.  No luck.  I soon saw why.

“I was frustrated when our daughter wouldn’t stop banging on her drum,” Tom mentioned.

“No,” Vicky replied.  “It wasn’t a drum.  Just an old pot that we don’t use any more. ”

“But I don’t care,” Tom said back, sounding irritated, “if it was the man in the moon she was a banging on.  The noise was too much for me…”

“But you don’t mind noise when you are the one making it, like when you are hammering on a woodworking project,” Vicki answered back.

“I sure don’t like,” Tom retorted, “when you are hammering on me.”

End of discussion.

What’s wrong with this picture?  What gift might help?

Tom and Vicky’s dialogue, even in this short snippet, totally clarified their problem.  Unknowingly to both of them, Vicky and Tom repeatedly negated each other.

Look back on their dialogue.  How often do they negate each other?  You can count the negations by counting the number of times they say either no or but.  

Vicky and Tom both had become masters of knee-jerk negating. You can tell by their frequent use of the words no and but.

No says that you are rejecting the information someone just gave you.  No pits the two of you immediately into adversarial stances.

But works like an eraser, erasing whatever came before.  Or think of but as the delete key on your computer.  Bye bye to whatever your partner just said when you launch your reply with but.  Equally problematically, beware of but in the middle of a sentence: “Yes, I agree with you that ___ but….”  The but deletes everything that was said before.

Like responding with a negating no, responding with a deleting but shifts cooperative dialogue into adversarial mode. 

What can fix no and but lisltening habits?

If you sometimes have been replying with no or but, and especially when you are thinking or talking about sensitive issues, train yourself to remove these words from your vocabulary.

To make this shift, you first will have to change your listening stance. Instead of listening to show what is wrong with what you are hearing, aim to listen to take in data, to learn, to hear what makes sense or what you can agree with. 

Listening in this new way can launch you toward being able to respond with the gift of appreciative, agreeable, additive dialogue.

Then practice the following three-step listening formula.I call it the formula for Yes/and listening.

1.  Start your response with the word YesYes establishes that you and the speaker are on the same team, not adversaries.  In addition, this habit gives you time to scan for what you can agree with even in something you have heard that differs from your view.


2.  Verbalize agreement with at least something in what you have heard. Be specific. Maybe even enlarge on what makes sense about it.

"Yes, ... I agree that going out tonight could be fun."

3.  Then add your perspective, linking your thoughts to what you have heard with and or and at the same time instead of but

"...and at the same time I would want to get back early since I have to get up early tomorrow morning."

Replacing no and but with yes and and flips a potentially adversarial dialogue into a cooperative and even mutually appreciative conversation.

Here's another listening skills example.

Instead of "No, I don't like that band..."  you could say "Yes, I agree that that band is very popular, and at the same time for me their music is too loud."

And instead of "But they don't play louder than other bands" you could respond, "Yes, their music is loud, and other bands also generally keep their volume high."

One of the very best holiday—and every day—gifts you can give loved ones is ...

... is for you to upgrade your listening skills.  Think how much stress and distress you would be saving, for both you and those you love!

As to Vickie and Tom's listening skills...

Vicki and Tom deserve major credit.  While they had no idea what had been causing their frequent irritability and arguments, they knew that they could do better—and they sought help to figure out how. 

Any day of any week in any year, you too can make a decision to figure out what in your listening style may sometimes trigger irritation and frustrations in your interactions with your loved ones. 

Start with noting when you or the person you are speaking with become irritated, hurt or defensive. Then practice, practice, practice the yes/and alternative. 

For further listening and other cooperative dialogue skills, check out my book , workbook and website all called Power of Two.  These resources teach the full set of communication skills that enable folks to enjoy smooth tension-free relationships.

What is love?

Love is listening.  Love is listening in a way that enables you to hear with appreciation the data your loved one is sharing with you.

Love gets conveyed by listening with your good ear.  The good ear listens for what's right with what others say; the bad ear listens to negate. You estabalish a loving relationship with yourself when you take seriously the still small voices in your thoughts.  You give a gift of love every time you appreciate what's valuable in others' perspectives.

We are not born knowing listening skills

It helps if you grew up in a home with parents who modeled the skills.  Did your folks talk with each other respectfully, appreciatively, without negating and arguing?

If not, no problem.  It's never too late to upgrade your dialogue habits.

So give yourself and others the gift of upgraded skills for positive, loving listening. 

Then happy birthday, merry Christmas, happy Valentines day, happy wedding, happy anniversary—and happy life!