Effective Communication: Learning to Listen and Validate

Alex Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW
Individual, Couples & Family Therapy
IMAGO Certified Marriage Counselor
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor
Founder & Director of the Center for Growth Inc.

Posted by: Alex Robboy
CAS, MSW, LCSW Individual, Couples & Family Therapy IMAGO Certified Marriage Counselor AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor Founder & Director of the Center for Growth Inc.
267-324-9564

Couples Counseling in Philadelphia: Effective communication is essential in our relationships.  Unfortunately, communicating effectively during disagreements can be easier said than done.  A common complaint that is heard with couples who are having problems is “we need to learn how to communicate” or “we do not communicate well”.  One important aspect of effective communication is learning how to listen.  Many times when we are in the heat of an argument, we are more concerned with proving our point or planning our next statement then really listening to what the person is saying.  And sometimes, what that person is saying can be hurtful or blaming making it even more likely that we will stop listening and plan our next move.  Learning how to listen, even if the person who is talking is not making that very easy, can go a long way towards resolving conflict. 

Listening is important but so is validation.  It is one thing to listen and to even repeat back what someone has said.  But it is quite another to validate that person’s experience.  You do not have to agree to validate.  It is about stepping into the person’s shoes and trying to understand how he or she might have had that reaction, feeling, interpretation etc.  Individuals react, interpret, and understand things in many different ways.  Your way is rarely the only way and if your partner feels like you are trying to listen and understand what he or she is saying, it goes a long way in working towards a resolution. 

A simple strategy for learning how to listen is to ask your partner to explain his or her view and to summarize what he or she has just said to you.  Having to summarize makes you focus on what the person is saying.  Summarizing is also helpful to give your partner the opportunity to correct what you may have misheard or misunderstood.  Some great ways to start a summary statement are: What I hear you saying is……, If I understand correctly, you are saying……., So you are saying that…..  Once you have made your summary, ask your partner if you have it correct and if not, ask him or her to clarify what you got incorrect. 

Next step is validation.  Take a minute and process the information that your partner has given you and try to put yourself in his or her shoes.  Listen to their viewpoint and consider how one might see it that way or how one might view it that way.  Maybe coming home from work and retiring to your office with a drink and Facebook is a great way for you to unwind after dealing with people all day, but it upsets your partner because he or she has been alone all day and really needs and wants some contact and conversation with you.  Your partner could express that as a concern and you could begin to defend yourself and think or him or her as needy and dependent.  Or, you could listen to your partner’s view, think about what your partner’s experience is like and try to understand it.  A validation statement could be something like…. I understand how you could feel ___ , If I were in that situation, I may feel ___ too.  It makes sense that you would feel ____.  After validating, offer a way to address the concern.  If you are saying that you understand the person’s experience how are you going to attend to it or address it?  What can you give or what kind of compromise can you suggest?

Communication for the above example may go something like this:

Partner:  I hate that you come home from work and go immediately to your office.  I haven’t seen you all day and have been home working all by myself.  Couldn’t you spend some time with me for once? 
(Keep in mind that your partner may not express things in the greatest way, especially if he or she is angry.  You may want to just defend yourself, but resist that urge and try to summarize what he or she said, put yourself in his or her shoes, and validate it.)

You: I hear you saying that you don’t like that I go right to my office when I come home, and that you want to see me and spend some time with me.  Is that right?

Partner: Yes, that is actually what I am saying. 

You: OK, I can understand that.  You have been without human contact all day and if that was my experience I would probably really want to hang out with you too.  How about if I go into my office to unwind for 30 minutes and then we can spend some time together? 

As easy as this communication sounds, it can be difficult.  We have our own feelings and reactions during these conversations and we may really not want to make the effort to listen and validate.  However, remember that we all want to be validated and understood.  No one wants to be blamed, dismissed, ignored, etc.  So really trying to be aware of how your respond to your partner and learn how to make the shift to really listening and understanding what your partner is saying as well as attending to it will really help you to develop healthy and happier relationships. 

Still struggling with this communication technique? Call today to schedule an appointment today at The Center for Growth / Couples Counseling in Philadelphia 267-324-9564.