This is going to be short and sweet because it’s such a simple concept. However, I’ll make sure to give you the backstory for why I’m writing this.
I was having a conversation with one of my clients the other day. For what it’s worth, I spend a lot of time working with couples, but this is one of my individual clients. If I was seeing this person and their partner together, then the rest of this blog would look a little different. SO, my client was asking about how to bring up something with their partner. They wanted to bring something up that hurt their feelings, but they were wary of their partner getting defensive, feeling hurt, or turning the tables and making it about them.
We’ve all been in this place before, haven’t we? Where we feel frustrated by something, but want to address it, but then we feel a little bit hesitant to address it for fear of how it’s going to turn out… right? I can only speak for myself (and I guess for this client, too), but I know I’ve been in that place before. It’s not a fun place to be.
Here’s what I told my client (not verbatim).
Me: “Client, have you thought about prefacing your conversation with a suggestion for taking turns listening?”
Client: “What do you mean?”
Me: “Well, I wonder what it would be like if you suggested that each of you has to summarize what the other has said before you can respond.”
Client: “I’ve never thought about that.”
Me: “Most people don’t. It seems like we prefer listening to respond rather than listening to understand.”
Client: “That’s a really good idea.”
Me: “Thanks. It’s an adoption from basic speaker/listener exercises and one Gottman exercise, in particular. The point is, hopefully, that you each shift from arguing your point to actually trying to understand where the other person is coming from. Easier said than done, but totally doable.”
Client: “I’m trying that. Then maybe (partner) won’t get as defensive as normal.”
Me: “Possibly. And also making sure that you let your partner know you’re interested in what they have to say, but that it’s important to take turns, so that each person does get heard. Does that make sense?”
Client: “Yes, I’m trying this tonight.”
There you have it. SIMPLE. EFFECTIVE. Of course, I frequently recommend letting your partner know what’s going on before you just dive right into something (i.e. preface your conversation before you start it). That aside, though, it can be highly effective and, depending on the topic, fun to do.
Also, like I said, short and sweet. Leave questions below if you have them!
Tara Vossenkemper is an Assistant Professor and counselor educator with Central Methodist University, along with the founder and a practicing counselor with The Counseling Hub, LLC (located in Columbia, Mo). Tara specializes in working with relationships (using Gottman Method Couples Therapy), anxiety, existential issues, and spirituality. You can read more about Tara and The Counseling Hub at www.thecounselinghub.com.