The need to be heard and understood is such a deep need in all of us. After food, water, and shelter, I believe it is our most dominant emotional need. That’s why it’s so hard to set that need aside, even temporarily, in order to listen for the purpose of understanding another. But don’t underestimate the power of listening.

We may catch another’s words and superficially understand the meaning of those words. But when we go for deep listening, the kind of listening that invites the other to share more vulnerably, that’s really rare.

Author's diagram of different levels of listening, from ignoring to empathic listening

A Client’s Report

Keegan and his wife Brittany completed the Millionaire Marriage Club course several months ago. Recently Keegan called me. He needed help. In his words, he’d been lazy and gone back to his old habits. His wife was angry and discouraged about the future of their marriage. Keegan wanted to experience the happiness they’d had when they were using the communication tools they’d learned and treating each other with respect

Keegan is in the US Navy. He has been accepted into training as a Navy SEAL. He understands cause and effect. His body is well conditioned in order to be accepted into the SEALS’ training program. Keegan reviewed and began practicing the Millionaire Marriage Club skills with renewed dedication in order to get the results of a better, happier marriage.

I asked Keegan to comment on which of the skills he uses the most often. He reported, “Definitely the Listening to Understand skill. It’s so easy to learn but has been the hardest to master. The payoff, however, is a much healthier relationship with my wife and children. By focusing on listening, and repeating back what I hear, I get to see a different perspective. I understand how Brittany is thinking and have a clearer understanding of what she wants and why. Because I’m much better at this listening skill now, my thirteen year old daughter shares a lot with me about her experiences at school and with friends.” (I have his permission to share this glowing report of Listening to Understand.)

Why is Listening to Understand So Hard?

How to Listen to Understand

Man listening to child

Listen first to the words, but also notice the feelings behind the words. What does the other’s tone of voice or body language tell you? Periodically, you summarize and repeat back what you’ve heard and noticed. For instance, “You’re upset because your coworker frequently doesn’t complete her work. You’re tired of needing to monitor her so closely in order to make sure the work gets done.”

Frequently, the speaker will then share something even more vulnerable, such as, “Yes. I’m feeling discouraged. I wonder if I’m burning out and need to find a different job.”

You reply, “You’re so tired of this situation that you’re discouraged and thinking of looking for a different job.”

Speaker replies, “But maybe I just need to learn how to set and enforce boundaries. I’m afraid to administer consequences. Maybe this person would be more responsible if I let her feel the pain of doing sloppy work.”

Listener, “So, you’re wondering if part of the problem could be your reluctance to let her feel the painful consequences of doing poor work.”

Although the above example is fictional, the process proving the power of listening is one that I’ve observed multiple times in multiple conversations of my own as well as others.

Listening to Understand is Magical

Instead of defending yourself, use Listening to Understand instead.

Rather than telling the other person what they must do to heal your hurt feelings, use Listening to Understand.

Do not give unsolicited advice. Simply Listen to Understand. Wait to be asked for your advice. Otherwise it’s wasted.

After generously Listening to Understand, ask, “Are you able to listen to me, now?” in a neutral, not sarcastic tone of voice.

I challenge you to try any of the above scenarios. Then, write the results down in an email to me. I want to hear!

You have my love and support,

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is NancyLandrumSignature-1024x289.jpg