We have relationships in all areas of our lives.  With ourselves, with loved ones, with family (whether they are good or not), work colleagues, friends. etc.  What drives these relationships are connection and communication. Done poorly, these relationships become strained, full of quarreling or they end.

In fact, all of the research on well being….our mental health, physiological health, our longevity or our happiness…all depend on one thing. Positive connections- relationships are the best predictor of all of these in our lives.

How we handle communication in our relationships involve quite a few parts including our past experiences, how our original family interacted and what role models we had, what we believe about ourselves and our internal self talk.

For example,

If it wasn’t safe to share your needs and wants – you will be more likely to hint or not even bring them up until you are resentful.

If we didn’t see people resolve conflict or they did it by yelling, power struggles or tantrums; we learn that.

 Proper listening is a skill that can be learned.

There are lots of blocks to listening. I will share a few with you below and some ways to overcome them.  We get irritated when people do this to us but we often are guilty of the same thing.

·         Rehearsing… You are trying really hard to look like you are listening but your mind is going a mile a minute preparing what you are going to say next.

·         Identifying….you take everything that the person tells you and refer it back to your own experience. Their toothache becomes the story about your gum surgery. I often refer to this one as one upping.

·         Advising…. You hear a couple of sentences and you are preparing for just the right advice. If they would stop talking and listen to you there problem would be solved..

.     Derailing….this block is accomplished by suddenly changing the subject or by joking it off in an attempt to avoid the discomfort or anxiety of seriously listening to the other person.

.      Being right– you will go to any length to avoid being wrong.  Criticism is hard to hear, convictions are unshakeable, won’t acknowledge mistakes.



All of us want to be listened to and understood.

  We long to be heard completely and not

Judged or advised. When those who are closest to us

will not take the time to hear us by genuinely listening,

we often shut down and feel disconnected.


The key to real listening is wanting and intending to do so. Listening doesn’t mean sitting still with your mouth shut. It is an active process that includes letting the talker know you are with them along the way, asking some questions to clarify, and acknowledging with empathy what the other person might be feeling.

·          Listen with the intent to be able to relay the main points and feelings of the speaker whether you agree with them or not.

·         Paraphrase what you heard them saying before launching into your side of it.
What I hear you saying is….
Let me understand, what was going on for you was….
In other words….
Do you mean?

Be empathetic and validating so a person feels supported and valued.

That sounds tough

I know you’ll figure this out

I see that you are really upset

Man, that must be tough

We can’t fix it for others but we can be helpful as they are going through something or conveying a message. We can’t make it better for another person but we can listen with empathy and validation.

 What isn’t helpful to the other person:

Advice – “you know what you should do…”

Judgement – “omg, I can’t believe you did…”

Jumping in to fixing it – “If it were me, this is how I would handle it…”


This doesn’t mean agreeing with them or it only being a one sided communication.  A person needs to feel heard and understood for their perspective and asked some questions before they are open to input or the other’s person perspective.

We can ask great questions to help someone process what is going on for them.  Once they feel heard and validated, then you can ask if they want any feedback from you or present what was happening for you at the time if there was a disagreement or miscommunication.

Next time I will share with you some ways to express yourself in a way that you are more likely to be heard.

Nancy Ryan, LMFT

Nancy Ryan, LMFT

Nancy Ryan, LMFT specializes in working with individuals and couples who want deep, satisfying relationships with themselves and their partners. She works with couples who are ready to stop the destructive patterns and want to build the love, friendship and romance back into their partnership.

For more on Relationship Counseling click here.