Relationship Minute: Listen out loud

The concept of “active listening” can be challenging to apply, especially in conflict or a tense conversation. Or it may feel false to you, like a character in a movie who sets the phone down and keeps saying “mmhm,” “oh wow” to the speaker on the other end. Some may even interpret “active listening” to be chiming in, interrupting, or talking over.

Instead, practice engaged listening, and remember that it’s a skill built over time. Here are some quick tips for better listening.


  • Tune in to what the other person is saying. Stay curious. 
  • Make understanding a goal. Confirm what you heard with the speaker to see if you have it right. 
  • Repair if you interrupt, get distracted, become defensive, or misunderstand. 
  • Ask clarifying questions. 
  • Inhabit the role of a passenger on the speaker’s train of thought. Follow their journey, at their pace. 
  • Be aware of how much time you spend talking in the conversation. 


  • Spend your time planning what you are going to say next/waiting for your turn to speak.
  • Try to “fix” things or offer unsolicited advice. 
  • Split your focus between the speaker and your phone or something else. Multitasking is a fallacy. 
  • Try to finish or anticipate what the speaker is saying.
  • Take what the other person is saying so personally that you become defensive and unable to hear their side. 
  • Completely shut down your own reaction to what the other person is saying. Your feelings and reactions are valid and it’s good to pay attention to what comes up for you. 

Next time you have a conversation with your partner, or even a friend, family member, or colleague, think about how much time you spend talking/sharing and how much time you spend listening? What might you implement to bring more balance to that?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.