When it comes to conflict between two people, there are two common ways that they usually handle it:
Swallow their anger and don’t deal with the issue or spew out the anger
In the end, neither approach is productive for the relationship and often leads to one or the other feeling unsafe to express themselves.
The Speaker/Listener Technique is a structured technique used to safely and clearly communicate with your partner (especially when tensions are running high).
The goal for the technique is for both individuals to feel understood by the other. It is not the solution to the problem or an agreement, but it can help lead to a solution.
When the conversation is getting emotionally intense and you feel that you are unable to calmly express yourself…take a time out. Agree to a time to come back and finish the conversation (preferably in the same day). Do something to calm down and then return to the conversation using the Speaker Listener Technique.
One person is the Speaker and the other is the Listener. There are three main rules for the speaker:
1. The speaker should speak for him or herself, don’t mind read. Mind reading is when you tell someone what he or she is thinking, feeling, or wanting.
An example would be: “You don’t care what I want.” Instead you could say, “I don’t feel cared for.”
2. When the speaker is speaking, they should keep their statements short and stop before going on and on so that the listener can keep in mind what the speaker is saying.
3. Stop to let the listener paraphrase what they heard.
Rules for the listener are:
1. Paraphrase what you heard the speaker say in your own words.
2. Edit out their own thoughts during the paraphrase. Don’t be thinking about whether you agree or disagree or prepare you response in your head, but rather focus on what the speaker is saying.
After the listener paraphrases what they heard, the speaker can then clarify if the message if it wasn’t understood, otherwise they can continue forward with what they wanted to communicate.
Rules for both the speaker and listener include:
1. The speaker has the floor. Even though the listener talks in order to paraphrase, the listener is conveying the speaker’s message, so the speaker keeps the floor while the listener paraphrases.
After the speaker has said one to three really important messages and the listener has heard and understood, the floor is passed to the listener and the roles switch.
2. Share the floor so that both individuals have the chance to share their concerns and be heard.
There are three common concerns that come up when using this technique:
1. It’s unnatural. Yes it is, but if you engage in what naturally happens, the results are not good and it makes problem solving that much more difficult.
2. It doesn’t allow for emotions. Very often it is the emotions that escalate the argument. By keeping emotions out of the conversation, each individual is able to be heard and understood.
3. It’s too hard when you are upset. True. When you are so upset that you cannot talk in a controlled, rational manner, you should take a time out and then return to the conversation once the emotional intensity has decreased and you are able to resume with the Speaker Listener Technique.
Every couple needs to have some way to talk about their difficult issues together. If you have another way that works for you both, then use it – as long as each of you are agreed that it works and you both feel heard and understood.