Don't Start a Business as a Couple Without This #1 Skill
This 7-step communication framework will revolutionize how you resolve conflict in relationships.
Our biggest takeaway from pre-marital counseling is something that our counselor called "the listening skills." So what are the listening skills? Listening skills are an 7-step process for learning how to practice active listening with your partner.
The Listening Skills Framework
“If you're trying to accomplish a goal together — and don't want communication issues to derail you — this framework will be the single most valuable skill in your toolbox.”
The listening skills framework was really the only thing that we focused on in premarital counseling, which I remember at the time thinking was kind of strange. It was almost like,
"Isn't there more we need to know to be successful in marriage?"
But the truth was, there's ton of wisdom in it.
Though this framework seems very simple, it's actually quite advanced. I would recommend practicing it in a non-threatening environment with your partner. I also wanted to add that this is a really useful skill not just for people who are married or partnered, but also for co-founders or people who work closely together.
If you're trying to accomplish a goal together — and don't want communication issues to derail you — this framework will be the single most valuable skill in your toolbox.
And so today, we wanted to download this framework to you.
Let's dive in.
👆We also created a YouTube video to describe the 7-steps. 👆
Scenario: your partner cuts you off in a client call
Let's start with a hypothetical. Say you and your partner are brainstorming with a client in a business meeting and you throw out an idea you're excited about.
But immediately, your partner — who's supposed to be supportive of you — cuts you off and changes the subject entirely.
You're on the same team. You're trying to win this client over, but from your perspective, your partner just totally derailed the conversation and dismissed you.
But you were in front of a client and felt like you needed to roll with the punches. So you continued the conversation like nothing happened, but you felt really mad at your partner about it.
Ok, here's where the framework comes into play:
Step 1. "Can we use the listening skills?"
After the call, the very first step is for you to ask your partner: "Can we use the listening skills?" This is a specific bid that you and your partner will both implicitly understand if you both learn this framework. It signals: Can we activate the communication framework we use when one of us needs to have a serious talk about something?
The most important thing in this step is to realize it is a bid. Your partner can choose to accept or not. If they say, "No, I'm busy right now." — you have to accept that.
But what you do then is say, "Okay, is there a better time when we can use listening skills to talk about something?" Then it's your partner's responsibility to give you a time within the next 24 - 48 hours where you can use the listening skills to communicate.
But for the purposes of this blog, let's say they say "Yes," confirming that they can talk.
2. "Is now a good time to talk?"
"So many conflicts happen because people are just hangry. Avoid this."
This next step is also mandatory. Ask about timing: "Is now a good time to talk?"
You want to check in at this point to make sure neither partner is hungry, grumpy, distracted, or tired. So many conflicts happen because people are just #hangry. Avoid this. So my biggest advice here is just to circumvent that from ever happening by asking: "Are you sure now's a good time?"
Alex is a morning person and I'm a night owl. Any conflict that happens super early in the morning or super late at night, isn't a good time for us to address it. So, again your partner has an out, and I would encourage you to use this question to examine your own state in that moment: It's not just about whether your partner is hungry or tired. A big part is asking yourself, "Am I hungry? Am I tired? Is this really about something else that maybe I can fix? Am I uncomfortable? ...Are my pants just too tight?"
Use this moment — for both of you — to check in to your internal state. Make sure that you know you're at a good baseline because you don't just want to blow up on each other because you are hungry. That's really something to avoid.
3. Designate a "speaker" and a "listener"
Next, determine the roles. At this point, I would recommend saying, "On that client call, I felt hurt. I felt unheard. And I was wondering if I could be the speaker, and you could be the listener?"
9 times out of 10, the person who feels the problem will initiate the listening skills. They'll be the one who will be the first speaker.
Occasionally, if we're both on the same page about a conflict, sometimes I like to give Alex the floor first, because maybe I felt like I had wronged him in the situation. So I'll ask if he wants to be the speaker.
But typically, the person initiating the listening skills is the one with the grievance — and they'll be the "speaker." And the other person will be the "listener."
So once you've established roles, it's time to talk and listen: the heart of the listening skills.
4. Speaker speaks, listener listens
Step four is for the speaker to speak and the listener — and I cannot emphasize this enough — to actively listen without talking.
Ground rules for the speaker:
> The speaker cannot attack their partner. The speaker has to frame things like "I felt unheard. I was embarrassed, I'm confused, I'm concerned..."
Notice you're *not* launching into an ad hominem attack: "You're a horrible partner because you don't listen, you're embarrassing, and you are hopelessly out of touch with reality..."
The easy way to do this is start your sentences with "I" not "You."
Focus on explaining your side of the story in a way that emphasizes the emotions or experiences you felt. Lay out the facts from your perspective. Try to be as objective and unassuming about your partner's intentions as possible — while being honest.
I'll say it once more, for effect: Don't make assumptions about your partner's intentions.
In general, try not to speak for more than 2-3 minutes. Keep it on topic. The biggest thing is to not BLAME your partner or ATTACK them. Focus on your felt experience of the situation.
Ground rules for the listener:
> If you're the listener, you are *only* going to listen. The vast majority of humans, when they hear a problem someone has with them, go into a maddening spiral of assumptions, defensiveness, and over-reacting. We've all been there.
But as the listener, your job is to listen for the exact words and phrases your partner is using, because in step 5, your job comes next.
5. Listener mirrors back word-for-word what was said
Once the speaker has had the opportunity to explain the experience, the listener tries to repeats back word for word what they heard using this formula:
"Ok, so what I hear you saying is you felt unheard, embarrassed, and confused when I cut you off in that client call. Does that sound right?"
This step is key because if you're not actively listening, you'll get it wrong.
Everyone has an interpretive lens on reality — and it's moments like these where they really come out to play. This step is an opportunity for the listener to empathize with their partner and repeat, verbatim, literally word-for-word what their partner said. Literally try to use their words.
The speaker can then clarify: "Well, I didn't really feel embarrassed, I actually felt disrespected."
And the listener will reply, "Ok, what I hear you saying is you felt disrespected..."
Speaker: "Yes, that's right."
Warren Berger describes the benefits of this process in his book, The Book of Beautiful Questions:
The listener repeats back what has just been said in the form of a question. (Just to be clear, are you saying x, y, and z?) ...paraphrasing seems easy but it is 'surprisingly difficult for the poor listeners of the world.' It's effective for two reasons. First and foremost, it helps to ensure clearer communication. (You may have misheard what was said, or the person may have expressed it poorly on the first try.) ...it [also] provides the additional benefit of building agreement between the speaker and the listener. It shows the speaker that you really are trying to understand them.
6. Listener mirrors back a predominant emotion
Next, the listener will say, "So it sounds like you're feeling frustrated? Is that right?"
And the speaker can clarify yet again or confirm that the listener is right.
7. Apologize, make up, hug, or swap roles
This, dear reader, is where real life happens. After this, it's often the job of the listener to apologize.
Michael Hyatt recommends a simple formula: "I'm sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?" Then you make up, offer forgiveness, hug, and generally promise to try to avoid this again in the future.
Often the feeling is a mutual disagreement. If that's the case, it's time to switch places. The listener becomes the speaker and vice versa. This is a chance for the former listener to share how they felt and what their experience of the matter was.
And that's it!