It’s a good question as the way we listen will determine the health of one of the most important aspects of the relationship – the type of dynamic in place. The dynamic is the way we listen, the tone of our talk, the way we perceive our partners, the way we negotiate our differences and resolve important issues.

So how do you listen to your partners? Do you do it to win, to fix or learn and understand. The latter is a very powerful way of communicating and so much more rewarding than the others, for the recipient and well as the deliverer. There will be a place for each way to listen though.

I’m sure you can envisage listening to win the argument by just presenting the facts. I mean you want to pass on some information to another person. How you do this with the right tone and choice of words matters. For instance, “What we have here is a difficult decision but as I see the facts are …..” which is better than, “Let’s face the facts this is a case of……..”

Next is the case where you listen to fix as you want to help and you can see the solution very quickly and easily. The problem with this is, fixing it is not always the answer and if you do this constantly the other person stays in the role of the victim, unable to solve their own problems. Also, when they don’t take your advice, you might deep down resent them for their inaction. What they really wanted was to get it all out on what they are going through. To feel heard and not shut down.

Then there is the gift of the case for listening to learn and understand. This is where curiosity provides a big opening up of the issue where there is no win/lose situation. For instance, he or she says, “I’ve got this lump on my elbow which is really bothering me.”

Listening to learn or understand is a reply of, “When did you notice this and how are you feeling about it?” He or she might say, “My boss is driving me mad as he never respects what I say or do and is critical of all the staff.” How would you answer this if you were listening to learn and understand? See I have just done this to you as I want to know what you would do rather than tell you what to do to fix it. I want to learn and understand you.

Being emotionally involved and connected with our partners involves being curious about what they are experiencing rather than showing them you know what they should do.

Most of us wants to be heard and questioned on how we are coping with issues and not told what to do. When an open ended conversation takes place creativity is released and validation felt.

With self-reflection we can all greatly improve our relationship dynamics by trying to listen to learn and understand.

Gerry North is a counsellor treating anxiety, depression, addictions and relationship issues.