The Importance of Speaking and Listening

Positive conversations in a relationship don’t just happen. They are the result of paying close attention to the three primary components of communication – timing, speaking, and listening. Last week’s article addressed the importance of timing to the success of a conversation ( ). This article connects the other two critical aspects of successful communication.


Most people think they don’t need any help in getting their point across. They know what needs to be said and they are intent on saying it. To be an effective speaker, however, it is important to be sure you are clear about what you want to say.

Conversations must stay on topic and not stray to unrelated matters.
Limit your comments to your thoughts and your feelings on the subject – don’t invite your partner’s defensiveness by interpreting his/her behavior and emotions.

Make a conscious effort to avoid using “never” and “always” – this encourages contradiction and denial and diverts your partner’s attention from your point.
If you approach the situation calmly and own your own feelings and behavior, you increase the likelihood of a positive outcome for the discussion.


Almost everyone understands and agrees that listening is essential to a conversation. It is, however, the one component which presents the most difficulty for most of us. We understand the situation at hand; we know what is right. We are certain that if our partner would just listen to us and do it our way, the problem would be resolved. Unfortunately, our partner thinks and believes exactly the same thing.

Being a good listener requires that we suspend our own ideas for a moment and concentrate openly and completely on our partner’s position. A well known and effective technique for ensuring we understand our partner’s position is Reflective Listening. In this approach, you paraphrase or reflect back what you hear your partner saying. This allows for any misunderstandings to be clarified before an inappropriate response is given.

Reflecting back your partner’s statements or feelings does not necessarily mean you agree with your partner, only that you understand his/her position. It also slows the conversation in positive manner and allows both of you to keep your emotions under control. It is very important not to presume that you know what your partner is thinking or feeling. Don’t feel compelled to finish sentences or provide other assistance to your partner if he/she takes a moment to compose his/her thoughts. The silence may be uncomfortable but it is necessary to give your partner time to consider his/her words or position. It is important to recognize these lulls as essential to the listening component of productive conversations.

If you implement these suggestions to choose an appropriate time to discuss a difficult topic, know what the topic is, take ownership of your own thoughts and feelings and take the time to really listen to your partner instead of preparing your response, you will find that reaching an acceptable solution will be far easier than if you rely on your old conversational habits.

Lesli Doares is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the Cary, NC area, an author, speaker and seminar leader. In her practice, Balanced Family Therapy, her focus is on helping couples and individuals maximize their relationships. Lesli and her husband have been married for over twenty years and have two children. To learn more about how to have a great marriage visit her website or contact her at

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