The Speaker Listener Technique

So often in the heat of couples conflict the real issue is lost amongst the name-calling, blaming, put-downs, sarcasm, frustration, and anger. The Speaker-Listener technique cools things down so that the real issue can be explored and eventually solved. In fact, the hotter the issue, the more the safety and structure of this technique are needed. The goal of this basic tool is to develop empathy—to see and respect the other person's viewpoint. The rules follow. Remember that the technique is not more important than the spirit the couple brings. Both must be respectful, calm, and positive.

Rules for Both

1. The Speaker is the focus of attention. Use any object to designate the speaker (a book, remote control, piece of carpet). If you are not the speaker, you are the listener.

2. Take turns. Once the speaker has spoken and is satisfied that he/she is understood—not before—switch roles.

3. Both parties speak in a quiet, calm, soft tone of voice.

4. Don't try to solve the problem. Instead, have a good discussion where both of you are heard and understood. Focus on dis-

""''Adapted with permission from Markman et al., 1991, and Markman et al., 1994. See footnote on page 196.

cussing feelings constructively. Problem solving comes later—once a foundation of understanding and teamwork have been established.

Rules for the Speaker

1. Speak only for yourself. Express your concerns, not your partner's. Describe your viewpoint—how you think and feel about the issue—not how you assume your partner thinks and feels. Mind-reading can intensify the conflict. Use "I" statements ("When you do X in this situation, I feel . . .") or statements such as, "It seems to me that you . . ."

2. Keep it short/brief. Keep your statements simple and concise to help your partner understand, and pause to ensure that your partner is understanding you. Don't worry about interruptions, which are against the rules. You'll have the opportunity to say all you need to say.

3. Give your partner chances to paraphrase. After talking for a short while, stop and permit your partner to repeat back what you just said. If the paraphrase isn't quite accurate, politely restate your thoughts as you intended them to be heard ("That's not quite what I meant. I meant X. Would you try paraphrasing again, please?"). Persist until you are satisfied the Listener really hears and understands you.

Rules for the Listener

1. Paraphrase what you hear the speaker saying. To show that you are listening and understanding, briefly restate what the Speaker said. It's okay to use your own words. ("Sounds like . . . , So you're feeling . . . , What I hear you saying is ... , Bad day, huh?") Check to see if your paraphrase seems accurate to your partner. If it doesn't (this is normal), permit the Speaker to patiently restate/clarify. Then paraphrase again. You may ask the Speaker, "Would you please repeat/clarify that?" if you don't understand something. Hold off asking other questions until you are the speaker.

2. Focus on hearing and understanding the Speaker. If you focus on paraphrasing, you'll listen better. Don't interrupt, disagree, or contradict. Do not indicate displeasure with gestures or making faces. Simply let the Speaker know that you are listening respectfully, understanding, and trying to be a team. You needn't agree with the Speaker. If you disagree, wait until you are the Speaker to tell your side.

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