Improving Couple Communication – The Speaker-Listener Technique

One of the best things you can do for your relationship is to develop the confidence that you (as a team) can deal with whatever issues come your way. Good communication can help you deal with the day-to-day obstacles that most couples encounter, and it is a skill you can learn.


The Speaker- Listener Technique

 Use this technique to discuss emotionally sensitive issues. Practice with easier topics or neutral issues first before discussing more difficult issues.


Rules for Both of You

  1. The Speaker has the floor. Use a piece of cardboard/rug to stand on, so you would literally have the floor! Use a real object to designate the floor such as the TV remote or pen. (The floor has also been referred to as the “talking stick”).  The point is that you have to use some specific object, because if you do not have the floor, you are the Listener.
  2. Share the floor. You take turns being the speaker during the conversation. This is a trust issue: you trust you will have the floor when you need it, so you can pass it to your partner when your partner needs it.
  3. No problem solving. Focus on having a good discussion, not finding solutions. You are less likely to hear what each other think about the problem when you are focused on solving the problem. Try not to problem solve prematurely.


Rules for the Speaker

  1. Speak for yourself. Talk about your thoughts, feelings, and concerns, not your      perceptions of the Listener’s point of view or motives. Try to use “I” statements, and talk about your point of view and feelings. “I was upset when you forgot our date”, is an “I” statement. “I don’t think you care about me” is not.
  2. Don’t go on and on. Pause to help the Listener understand you. It’s very      important that you keep what you say in manageable pieces.
  3. Stop and let the Listener paraphrase. After saying a bit, stop and allow the Listener to paraphrase what you just said. If the paraphrase was not quite accurate, you should politely and gently restate what you meant to say in a way that helps your partner understand. This is not a test! You want to make it possible for your partner to understand you.


Rules for the Listener

  1. Paraphrase what you hear.  Briefly repeat back what you heard the Speaker say, using your own words if you like, and make sure you understand what was said. This will show your partner that you are listening. If you don’t understand, ask the Speaker to clarify, but you need to limit yourself to just asking for explanations. Do not mind read.
  2. Don’t rebut. Focus on the Speaker’s message. As the Listener, you may not offer your opinion or thought. This is the hardest part of being a good Listener. If you are upset by what your partner says, you need to edit out any responses you may want to make and pay attention to what your partner is saying. Wait until you get the floor to make your response. You will have your chance, and when you do, you’ll want your partner to extend the same courtesy to you. (Any words or gestures to show your opinion are not allowed, including making faces! Avoid giving advice or trying to fix the problem)


Over the next month, I will have more tips on how to improve the communication in your relationship including setting ground rules for communication and using “time-out” to manage escalating conflict. You may also like to refer to the “Tips for Communicating Assertively” article posted on the CBT Professionals blog page.


Written by Raylene Chen, relationship counsellor working at CBT Professionals Psychology Clinic. CBT Professionals are a team of clinical psychologists on the Gold Coast with offices in Coomera and Nerang. Gold Coast CBT psychologists offer services to adults, children, and couples.

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