Speaker Listener Technique

We need to have better relationships with each other. We need to have better communication with our friends, family, neighbors and the people around us. We need to have more respect for them. We need to not only know what others say, but understand what they mean regardless of whether the other person comes from a different race, religion, background, or social-economic status. We need to revel in silence as we listen to our neighbor speak. We need to give them a moment to speak their mind and give ourselves enough time for their words to sink in. We need a listen first speak second mentality. Only then will we have a chance at understanding what one another means. The speaker-listener technique is a couples therapy technique that can help us communicate with our partners, friends, family, and members of marginalized groups.

The speaker-listener technique is a couples therapy technique. However, it can be used in any type of communication to help the understanding between two people or parties. It is beneficial for communication between lovers, friends, co-workers and family members.  For example, imagine person A & B are a couple.  Person A states three ideas they have in mind and person B listens silently. Person A has the floor and it’s their time to verbalize their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Once person A is done, person B should paraphrase what person A has said.  This will make person A feel heard and understood. Then person B has the floor for their three points while person A remains silent and paraphrases after. It is good to limit your turn to speak to a max of 3 ideas because it is challenging for the other person to remember. Please don’t ‘rattle off a laundry list’ of grievances. If you have more to say, please wait for your 2nd turn to speak. Finally, person A gets to speak again. This can go back-and-forth for as long as both parties need or have the patience for. The speaker-listener technique takes practice. It allows both parties to take a step back and understand what the other person feels and means.

For best results, a third-party moderator is often needed. A stubborn person may not effectively participate in the speaker-listener technique and simply repeat themselves without listening to the other person.  In this case, they need an objective moderator to reiterate to them that their point of view is too overbearing, controlling or domineering. Even then, it might take them a while before they can truly compromise with the other person. We have seen time and time again, that stubborn individuals do not compromise. That’s why it’s crucial for a couple to agree on an objective third-party moderator. It doesn’t need to be a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. It can be a friend, or even a family member.

The speaker-listener technique is easier said than done. It’s not a magic spell that lets everyone understand you. It simply improves your chances at making another person feel understood. It’s the best tool we have in negotiation and showing others that we understand them, while effectively sharing our ideas in conversation and debate. It’s important to learn that this tool exists and it is something that needs to be practiced. We need to continue to sharpen and hone our communication skills and this a great way to do that.

The speaker-listener technique is like a dance. One person makes the first move and the other waits for their turn to respond. Both must adapt as the conversation goes on. If either are inflexible then someone might feel slighted.  Still, not everyone is the same, so slight variations to this speaker-listener technique exist. It’s similar to treating addiction, where discipline, rigidity, and flexibility must all be in concert if it’s going to work. Otherwise a patient will succumb back into the addiction. Likewise, that’s how we overcome our negative personality traits. We need to be tough so we can allow ourselves to change. The rigidity in adhering to a new discipline is critical, or we will easily succumb to our negative maladaptive ways of addiction. When a couple discusses their thoughts and feelings there needs to be flexibility by both people. In the couple scenario, both people need to be able to work together, which takes a certain amount of discipline, rigidity, and flexibility.

One might ask, if the speaker-listener technique works so well, then why does conflict between people still exist? Here is a simple example. Sometimes person A has certain interests and will not tolerate anything other than fulfilling those interests. In this context, person A is a stubborn person with an ulterior motive.  Person B might be seeking justice and righteousness, but that may not be congruent with the interests of person A.  There are two outcomes to this: either person B submits to person A, or there may be a revolution. In the latter, person B may be seen as the rebel.  If we are to evolve as a society, then the speaker-listener technique must be part of that evolution. If we can empathize with each other, the speaker-listener technique speaks to that. In this case the third-party moderator would need to have individual therapy sessions with person A to help them let go of their rigid ways.  Behaviorally speaking, it is difficult for people to change.  Many people are stuck in their ways and even if they come to a Couples Therapy session, they might remain that way for years until they are open to real change. This often takes daily work on part of person A. However, not everyone is interested in changing. As a result, we can only focus on ourselves and how we deal with these situations. So it is helpful to everyone when we are psychologically capable of empathy, flexibility and active listening.

It may be more difficult for someone who is mentally unstable to properly take part in the speaker-listener technique. If someone has endured some loss or tragedy in their life, they may be emotionally beside themselves. Instead of wholeheartedly listening, they may rather rant or vent. At this point, the technique becomes a therapy session for them, like a form of free association. In these cases, you should allow that person to rant, because through that free association they can satisfy a restless part of themselves. By allowing them to vent we are providing them time and space to organize their emotions. It gives them a chance to gather themselves. Unconsciously, that person will likely thank you for allowing them to do so. During their free association, they have the floor. You must remain silent. When they are finished you should concisely reiterate to them what they have said. Just repeat their words back to them with as few words as possible. They will feel understood. Only then, can the speaker-listener technique move forward. Just make sure to empathize with them, even if they begin interrupting you.

This brings us to the issue of the “heckler.” The heckler ‘s goal is to disrupt someone’s flow for their own reasons. The heckler could be someone interrupting a public speech or presentation, or it could be someone in a conversation interrupting the other person. Ideally, the heckler should save their comments and questions for afterwards, but the heckler likely has their own message they want to get across. Depending on the situation, the heckler may be in the right and the presenter may actually be promoting injustice. In either case, this real-life example demonstrates how much a civilized society desperately needs the speaker-listener technique and a third party moderator.  Even though you are practicing this speaker-listener technique, the outside world may not be practicing this with you. They may be cutting you off as you speak. This should give you an idea about who your audience really is. Ask yourself, is it really worth it to continue with your message if your audience continuously cuts you off? It is better to empathize with their feeling, make a concluding statement of warmth and walk away? It may not be worth the energy to try and negotiate with a heckler, a mentally unstable person, or a very stubborn person. Sometimes we cannot change the world but we can change ourselves. We can change how we help other people feel understood. We can change the way we listen to them, and how we communicate with them. This is a process. The speaker-listener technique is something that needs to be practiced lifelong.

In real life, most people don’t go to therapy. Most people don’t have the time or money for it. Most people remain the same and don’t change anything about their character or desires. This is a problem. It’s a problem for the one on one couple and a problem for our society at large. However, this is what is needed for not only a couple but for a society, to survive. This is what is needed for humanity to rise to the next level. That’s why it’s important to seek out friends or members in your community who can help you and your loved ones in this way. Cherish these people, who have the ability to be objective. They can help you have better relationships. Don’t be an island, don’t try to fix every problem by yourself. It’s tough for a couple to find a third party to moderate their conversations, but I encourage every couple to have this person in their lives. The only way we can change society is by mastering our own emotions and how we communicate with ourselves and being that example for others.

Here is a good read about The Speaker-Listener Technique.