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  • Bill Petrie

Active Listening Makes All the Difference!

  • Do you feel that your partner really doesn’t hear you?

  • Do you feel that you are deeply misunderstood?

  • Do you just want to be listened to (rather than have a problem solved)?

  • Have you really learned to listen yourself?

These are common issues in relationships.

And, there is a very simple process called ‘active listening’ that goes a long way to dealing with these concerns.

Active listening works like this (and we’ll take a couple, John and Sue, as our example):

  • John and Sue set aside a minimum of half an hour when they won’t be disturbed. Mobile phones are switched off.

  • They then chooses who will speak first.

  • Let’s say that – this time - Sue speaks first.

  • Once John and Sue have settled opposite each other, Sue begins to talk.

  • It's important that Sue says what she wants to say and it is important that she talks from the heart.

  • She focuses on her feelings rather than on being critical of John.

  • Often a time limit is put on this first part of the process – of say, five minutes.

  • John listens without interrupting - preferably maintaining eye contact while he does so.

  • When Sue is finished speaking, John feeds back to her what he has heard her say.

  • John can also ask for clarification at this stage if there was something that he didn’t quite understand.

  • When John has finished feeding back, Sue then has a chance to correct any misunderstanding.

  • She can also feedback important elements that she feels John left out of his feedback.

  • Then the couples swap roles.

  • John now get’s a chance to speak from the heart, to hear Sue's feedback and to correct any misunderstandings or important omissions.

Although this technique sounds somewhat contrived when written out like this, in reality, it is surprisingly powerful.

I’ve used it to really good effect with many, many clients over the last thirty or so years.

But, although the technique is relatively simple, it is often not easy to do.

Why not?


  • It may be difficult for you to focus on what your partner saying because you are focusing on your own reaction to what your partner is saying or rehearsing your answers.

  • You may get to hear many things that are difficult for you to hear.

  • Your partner may be angry with you.

  • Your partner may be very critical of you.

  • It may be difficult to hear that your partner wants things from you that will struggle to give.

  • It may be hard to hear just how much you have hurt or alienated your partner.

  • You may feel threatened by some of the things that are said. Your partner may, for example, be considering leaving or thinking of having an affair.

  • You may struggle to deal with the emotional intensity.

  • You may fall into shame, guilt or anger, making it very difficult to listen.

  • You may find it very hard not interrupt.

  • It may be very difficult for you to simply listen without trying solve problems.

  • You may struggle to open up and express what you are really feeling.

  • And, many other reasons besides.

But, if you do this exercise - a couple of times a week - it will deeply affect the quality of your relationship!

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