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How to be a Good Listener

5 Common Mistakes & Pitfalls to Avoid

Let’s start with these common mistakes to avoid, so you can be a better listener.

pitfalls to avoid
Choose your next step wisely to avoid these common mistakes and pitfalls

1. Interrupting Your Partner

Interrupting your partner as they speak is a common pitfall we all fall into at times. It’s a disruptive listening mistake. It can make the speaker feel unheard and disrupt the flow of their thoughts and delivery.

2. Getting Distracted

Allowing your mind to wander or getting distracted by your phone, or whats going on out the window, prevent you from fully listening and diminish your ability to respond mindfully.

3. Thinking About Your Response

Instead of genuinely listening, you think about your response, and tune out to what’s being said. This can lead to misunderstanding, by missing important details. The confusion, can lead to frustration and getting off topic.

communication breakdown
Distracted. Interrupted & Selfish: How much more of this can I take?

4. 'Me First' Agenda

This pitfall is thinking about yourself first. Filtering everything that’s being said for ‘how does this affect me’? Rather than seeking to understand your partner without judgement, you are pre-occupied with your own agenda. This leaves the conversation one-sided and is typical of shallow communication.

5. The Need to Be Right

Similar to the above ‘Me First’ agenda is the need to be right. Rather than listening and seeking to understand, you are preccupied with winning and having your viewpoint validated. This common mistake is dismissive and ignores your partners experience, resulting in disconnection, frustration and tension.

couple argue not listening
Rising tension: Another frustrating conversation boils over into a destructive argument! If only they'd listen...

Why You Make These Common 'Communication Blunders'

Don’t be too hard on yourself, as you may have picked up these poor communication habits from your parents, family & friends, and have never grown out of them.

For example, if you’ve grown up having to ‘be the loudest to be heard’, this communication style is baked into your way of communicating to get what you want.

Oddly, these mistakes & pitfalls may even have helped you ‘get ahead’ in life, so you’ve felt rewarded… And keep doing them… 

But they come at a cost. And in your relationship, the cost can be a big one!

Let me explain.

Some jobs and roles require you to practice these pitfalls on a daily basis. Think of jobs where being assertive, dismissive, or defensive is key, in order to control the narrative, assert authority, influence and command.

Roles like, police, lawyers, doctors, teachers, sales, and so on.

Often short, sharp ‘authoritative’ communication is required, as part of the role.

The trouble starts when you bring this ‘role’ and communication style home and into your relationship.

Another example.

Perhaps you’ve grown to become the quiet type. Shut down, closed off, and go about your business quiet as a mouse. Where it feels easier and more comfortable to tune out and say nothing at all.

  • How effective as a listener can you be if your hearts not in it?
  • How well can you connect with your partner if you’re not practising good communication on a daily basis?


In any case, the good news is there are things you can do to become a better listener. It’s possible to be an attentive partner and be effective in your other roles in life.

Two Key Strategies for Being a Better Listener

The first strategy is all about awareness and unlearning your ‘bad habits’ and replacing them with good listening skills and better ways of communicating.

The second strategy is all about being adaptable and using your mindful awareness skills to adapt to the situation. So you can be ‘on point’ in the court room, or in front of a class of rowdy 1st graders, while being an open, loving and attentive partner when you’re at home.

The good news is, you can unlearn all the different styles and habits you’ve learned over the years, and replace them with better ones!

Need motivation?

Your partner is going to love and appreciate the ‘real you’. In more ways than one, you will be rewarded for listening and being a good communicator.

Visualise now…

How will your home & relationship feel?…

  • By going from ‘conflict and disagreements’ to ‘peace and harmony’.
  • By going from from ‘quiet, cold and void’ to ‘warm, bubbly and generous’?
women listening with intention
Mindful listening & appreciation: How will you experience the benefits?

Strategy One - Awareness & Unlearning Bad Habits

Identify your bad habits, and how often you are making the common mistakes and pitfalls. It might be that you’re a pretty good listener 90% of the time. But that 10% when you’re not! Wowee – ‘Look-out’!

If that’s the case for you, hone in on the triggers, and contributing factors that tip you into that zone. The window of tolerance and ‘self soothing’ resources will be useful for you here.

Raise your awareness of the ‘lazy habits’ you’ve grown accustomed to, and have relied on for so long.

Raise your awareness around taking off your ‘chef’s hat’ when you get home.

From “No Soup for You!” to “Would you like some more my love?”…

Replace your old unhelpful habits by including the ‘Top Listening Tip’s in your conversations.

And remember, we have many powerful and effective resources to help you practice good communication and be a better listener. From lowering your defense mechanisms to ‘Smooth Conversations’ and more.

For couples feeling stuck, or in deep conflict, getting professional couples counselling is highly recommended. It’s what I do everyday, so be sure to learn more about Couples Counselling and how I work.

Strategy Two - Adaptable Communication Styles

With your growing sense of mindful awareness, it’s now time to step up your relational awareness. Ask yourself…

“Who am I to this person right now?”

“What is this situation I am in right now?”

“Who am I ‘being’ (roles) right now?”

Pro tip – Your values underpin these roles and communication styles. Download the free Life Values Mastery eBook to learn more.

Being adaptable and flexible amongst all the roles you carry is key. Managing your emotions and adjusting your communication style to suit, allows you to be a better listener, in line, with who you’re talking to.

Example 1 - The Accurate Engineer

The ‘accurate engineer’ comes home from work, frustrated from a day riddled with mistakes, delays and problems, seemingly caused by a mix of sloppy work, laziness and incompetence.

Upon coming home, the frustration continues as she finds ‘the place a mess’ and the evenings plans have changed.

Normally this would cause the ‘accurate engineer’ to boil over, and ‘raise hell’ in the home, as she let’s her frustrations fly to anyone within earshot – usually her partner, and kids.

Now though – The accurate engineer, leaves her ‘work at work’ and changes hats as she arrives home. She practices a short routine to decompress and adopt her ‘at home’ traits and roles.

This means she is more accepting of ‘some mess’ as she walks through the door. She is more tolerant to changing plans, and is more available and flexible to her partner and family needs.

Example 2 - The Walled Off Husband

walled off husband

A ‘walled off’ husband is struggling to share his feelings and his relationship is suffering. His childhood family life was dysfunctional and has suffered through several traumatic events growing up.

In his 50’s now, his default mode is ‘very quiet’. The house is quiet, and there is a sombre mood about the home. Their two children have left home, but even their aging dog is not enough to lighten the mood.

Without change, the relationship will eventually fall apart, and lead to divorce.

After choosing to change and ‘do something’ instead… The walled off husband now greets his wife lovingly as she arrives home. He asks how her day was, and has something of interest to talk about.

He uses communication resources to help him open up and be more attentive. He has shifted from his go-to ‘avoidance behaviour’ to taking responsibility, and changing his ‘baked in old habits’.

She acknowledges his efforts and extends her warmth and affection lovingly – even in small way’s, it’s much appreciated.

They’ve made exciting travel plans together. They listen to each other’s dreams and ideas. They support each other better, and are quick to provide support – especially when one is feeling down.

Small changes around the home has shifted the space to have a fresh lively energy about it. A better space for chatting, playing music, connecting, laughing, and having family and friends around.

Top Tips to Be a Great Listener in Your Relationship

I'm Listening: Subtle touch with eye contact

1. Active Listening & Empathic Listening

Give your full attention to your partner when they are speaking. Put your phone right away out of sight. Clear your mind and environment of any other potential interruptions or distractions.

Active listening is paying close attention to the words spoken, and how they are spoken. The tone, the expressions and more. An active listener will also pick up on the emotions and feelings the speaker might be feeling too.

You can show you are listening without interrupting, by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and perhaps even holding their hand as they speak.

2. Reflect Back What's Been Said

Paraphrasing or summarising what’s been said and validating the feelings coming from your partner, are really important. This acknowledges you understand what’s been said, and your partner’s feelings and stance.

Even if you don’t agree, or don’t know the whole story yet; Reflecting back what you’re hearing and clarifying what you heard (the meaning) is key to being an effective listener.

3. Practice Patience

Practice patience, as your partner is speaking. Remember they are on their own journey of being the best communicator they can be too.

Allow your partner to express themselves fully without interrupting. Avoid finishing their sentences or making assumptions. Patience demonstrates respect and a willingness to listen attentively.

4. Seek First to Understand

“Listen to understand” –  not win.

Mindfully shift your focus to understand your partners experience. Comprehend your partners view without ‘point scoring’ or ‘fault finding’.

As Terry Real talks about so elegantly, You share the same biosphere with your partner.

“We’re not above them, we’re in them.”

“You can choose to pollute your biosphere by winning an argument over here, but you’ll breathe in that pollution by your partner’s withdrawal or lack of generosity over there.”

Therefore, it’s in your best interest not to pollute your own biosphere!

Your healthy biosphere: Seek first to understand - You're in this together

5. Be Non-judgemental & Open to Feedback

Avoid making judgements and belittling your partner. Shaming and putting your partner down are especially hurtful, even if they’ve ‘made a mistake’ themselves.

Similarly, as their partner, be open to receive feedback about you, without getting defensive or worse launching a counter-attack.

Keep an open mind, as you take on board what your partner is saying. Acknowledge their experience and perspective calmly & completely. Doing so, creates a channel for honest and trustworthy communication, that pays dividends toward an ongoing healthy relationship.

6. Use Resources to Help You Listen & Communicate

Being a great listener and following all these tips can be hard when you are busy or stressed – for example.

Falling into the same old pitfalls and mistakes is easy if we get tired or lose focus.

Make the process of change easier on yourself by using our top communication resources to guide you.

Use Smooth Conversations to stay on track and keep the conversation flowing in a positive and constructive direction without being de-railed.

Have conversations on ‘specific themes’ to practice good communication while enhancing your relationship. Check out the ‘Connected Couples Series’.

Use the Feedback wheel to ‘complain better’ and ‘respond & validate’ your partner respectfully.

Dig deep for personal insights and disarm triggers, with powerful exploratory exercises for couples.

And while we have even more powerful communication resources reserved for couples going through the ‘Save My Marriage Program’; take a look at these two popular articles now to revitalise your communication in your relationship.

“Your guide to deep communication”

“How to have deep conversations”

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