Blocks to Becoming a Compassionate Listening

On Wednesday, we discussed becoming “a compassionate listener.”  Today, we will list and discuss the “blocks to becoming a compassionate listener”: 

Mind Reading:  You are mind reading when you disregard or distrust what your partner is actually saying and instead try to figure out what he or she “really means”.  Mind Readers give too much importance to subtle cues such as tone, facial expressions, and posture.  They ignore the actual content of what their partner is saying in favor of their own assumptions and hunches.

Rehearsing:  You’re so busy rehearsing what you’ll say next that you never really hear what your partner is telling you.  Sometimes you may rehearse whole chains of dialogue: “I’ll say, then my partner will say, then I’ll say…”.

Filtering:  Filtering means that you listen to some things but not others.  You may listen for signs that your partner is angry or sad or anxious and then tune out when you sense that your partner is okay and that you aren’t expected to respond to any emotional trouble.  Filtering can also work to exclude things you don’t want to hear like drinking, gambling, etc.

Judging:  Judging means that you have stopped listening to your partner because of some negative judgement, or that you only listen for the purpose of assigning blame and putting negative labels on your partner. 

Daydreaming:  Everyone’s attention wanders.  When you’ve been with someone for many years, it’s especially easy to stop listening and drift away into your own fantasies.  If you find it harder and harder to pay attention to your partner, it may be a danger sign that you are avoiding contact on certain topics.

Advising:  Your partner barely has time to speak a complete sentence before you jump in with your advice.  Your search for the right solution and your urge to fix everything deafens you to your partner’s simple need to be heard.

Sparring:  You listen only to disagree, argue, and debate.  You take a position and defend it, regardless of what your partner says.  In many troubled relationships, sparring is the standard mode of communication.

Being Right:  This block protects you from hearing anything that suggests you are less than perfect.  To avoid suggestion that you are wrong, you will lie, shout, change the subject, justify, quibble, make excuses accuse, or otherwise fight off criticism.

Derailing:  Changed the subject or joke it off whenever the conversation becomes too personal or threatening.  By misdirection or humor, you avoid listening to your partner’s serious concerns.

Placating:  You are too quick to agree.  As soon as your partner expresses doubt, irritation or anxiety, you jump in with, “Yes…you’re right…I know…I’m sorry…I’ll fix it.”  You are so concerned with being nice, supportive, and agreeable that you don’t give your partner time to fully express his or her thought.

Defending:  Quick to feel misunderstood and judged.  Fear drives the defender to be too quick to “explain” instead of fully engaged in listening.

  • Put a checkmark next to the “blocks to compassionate listening” that best fit you.
  • Place an asterisk next to the ones that you feel best reflects your spouse.  How do they differ from the ones that your spouse selected for themselves?
  • Discuss the above with your spouse.  Make sure that you compassionately listen to each other…no condemnation or attacks. 

Become a Compassionate Listener

The large majority of these were created by M. McKay, P. Fanning, and K. Paleg in their book entitled Couple Skills:  Making Your Relationship Work, 2nd Edition.

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