How To Be A Better Listener (& Maybe Save Your Relationship)

You may think you're paying attention ... but are you really?

How To Be A Better Listener (& Maybe Save Your Relationship) getty

Seriously, many of us are terrible listeners.

Remember that game of "telephone" from when we were kids? Sitting in a circle, whispering something from ear to ear and by the end, it wasn’t even close to the original statement. Fun as a game, not so much in real life.

You might think you are a good listener yet like the blind spot in our car, we are blind to our own actions.

How can you know when you’re the one not listening? Pay attention to these 6 signs:


1. They say, "You’re not listening."

If you hear this, stop. Your partner is straight up telling you that they do not feel that you are listening to them. You might think that you are yet your partner is clearly not feeling heard.

RELATED: The 4-Part Exercise That Is Key to Effective, Zero-Arguing Communication

2. They say "That’s not what I’m saying."



Again, if you hear this, stop. There’s a disconnect between what your partner said and what you interpreted. This is where miscommunication occurs between intentions and perceptions.

3. They say, "Forget it."

Yes, again, stop. Your partner has checked out of the discussion. They are feeling that there is no way you are going to hear or understand them and they are fed up.

4. You interrupt.



If you find yourself cutting off your partner or if your partner says, "Let me finish", then you know you are not listening. If you stop your partner from talking, then you definitely are not listening because now they are no longer talking, you are.

5. You’re thinking about your response while your partner is still talking.

Despite believing we are great multitaskers, we really are not. Our mind works best when focused on one thing. So, if your mind is focused on your response then you are not fully paying attention to what your partner is saying.

RELATED: 4 Ways You Totally Suck As A Listener (And How To Stop)

6. You bring out your own example.



It’s the "Oh, what about when you do…”" or "Let me tell you about the time that I…" Trying to one-up your partner or turn the tables on them leads you right back to not paying attention to what they are trying to say.

Not feeling heard sucks worse than stepping in dog shit. How can you be a better listener and learn how to communicate effectively?

  • Do not respond defensively. If you say, "I am listening" or "I did hear you", you are responding from a place of defensiveness rather than openness. You are essentially telling your partner that they are wrong. You are engaging in the age-old behavior of self-protection. And really, what do you need to protect yourself from…from being wrong?
  • Embrace that "to err is human". You can be wrong. You can make mistakes. That does not mean that you are a bad, terrible person. Be open to self-reflection, growth, and change. Be open to truly hearing what your partner is trying to express.
  • Say, "tell me more." This might be the most important 3-word phrase in our vocabulary, besides "I love you." Saying, "tell me more" is telling your partner that you hear them (even if you disagree with them), that you value their experiences and perceptions (even if you disagree with them), and that you want to understand where they are coming from (even if you think they are totally cray-cray).
  • Think before you respond. Pause for a moment to do an inner check of how you are feeling and to think about your words before you speak. You can even say, "I need to think for a moment about what you are saying and how to respond."

Take heart, we can all be better listeners, whether with our partner, children, parents, friends, or co-workers. A little bit of mindfulness can have a big impact.

RELATED: Turns Out You've Been "Listening" All Wrong — Here's the Right Way

Paulette Janus, LCSW is a therapist and coach. Want to enhance your listening skills? Contact her.