Stop the Chaos and Start Communicating

A while back, my husband and I attended a marriage retreat.

One of the BIG topics was communication.

When I heard this I automatically thought, “Well my husband and I are pretty good at communication so I’m not sure what they’re going to tell us that I don’t already know.”

I admit, it sounded a little bit haughty, however, one thing my husband and I have always had going for us is good communication.

Or at least I thought.

That day we learned a powerful technique that can help people in any type of relationship to communicate in a healthy, forward-moving way.

And this technique can be used to talk through just about anything.

Even though I believed my husband and I had great communication skills, I realized that we avoided some of the more vulnerable topics.

There are certain issues that are more difficult to talk about than others.

Discussing sex, resentment, animosity, finances or insecurities can be tough…and sometimes chaotic.

Being vulnerable isn't always easy, even with a close friend or partner.

We don’t always know how the other person will react and receive what we have to say.

There are a few different things that come up for us mentally and emotionally that cause us to shy away from bringing up difficult topics with people we’re close to.

What Prevents Us From Bringing Up Difficult Topics:

a) We don’t want to rock the boat

b) We don’t want to open up a can of worms

c) We would rather just avoid it

d) It is painful

e) We don't know what reaction we will get

f) Fill in your own fear/insecurity here ____________

The BIG Question:

How do we communicate about something difficult with a friend or partner when we have so many trepidations or fears?

First, we need to be aware of deeply engaged/reflective listening.

We think it’s natural to listen, but many people struggle with it.

Think about what the Bible says about listening:

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:28)

“Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23)

And there so many more scriptures that explain the importance of listening!

If you want to have someone listen to you, you must understand how to listen first so you can essentially teach or guide them in their listening.

We may truly want to listen to people when they speak. We might be pleading for someone to really listen to us. In both cases, even with the best intentions, people can experience listening roadblocks

Roadblocks to Engaged/Reflective Listening:

Being Disengaged or Distracted:

When listening to someone we can easily become distracted with our own thoughts. We hear them talk and it triggers a memory in us. We go off into our own world, and in doing so, we disengage from really being with the person in front of us.


The best way to listen is to be engaged and simply say nothing. It sounds counter-intuitive, but we all want to be heard. When we jump in and tell someone that ‘everything will be okay’ it disregards the emotion around what they are feeling.

Giving Advice:

People want to help others, especially when someone you love is in pain. As stated above, the best way to listen is to be completely engaged with the speaker and simply say nothing. When we give advice we assume we can solve the problem for them, and don't take their experience, wants and needs into consideration. We don’t actually know what’s best for people — only they do. We can help them discover it, but we should refrain from giving advice, especially unsolicited advice.

Going off Into a Personal Story:

Have you ever poured out your heart to someone about a struggle, hoping that they would just listen and be with you in the pain, and they took everything you said and turned the spotlight on themselves and their issue or problem? They actually didn’t give you and your plight the time and attention it needed because they shifted the conversation to themselves.


This one is my husband’s personal favourite. His biggest pet peeve is people who constantly interrupt. You know the person who cuts you off when you aren’t finished your thought, interjecting with his own story/wisecrack/comment/etc. Yep, that’s what he loves most ;).

These are all detrimental listening habits that can be changed when we are aware of them.

Many bad habits are easily fixed, but it requires the listener to be consciously aware of speaking out of turn, allowing their mind to wander, going off into their own story and trying to make it all better. Then they must strive to break those habits.

One ‘listening’ tool I use with people when I’m really on my listening game is this:

Wait 2 full seconds (One Mississippi, Two Mississippi) before saying anything back, just to make sure the speaker is complete on their thought.

It’s not a perfect system, but since I’ve been implementing this technique it has shown me that very often people are not done their thought. When we jump in at the first sign of a pause, we might miss out on valuable information.

Engaged/Reflective Listening

*This technique was introduced to me by a couple named Nicky & Sila Lee. They run a marriage ministry and you can find more information about them HERE.

This looks like the following:

  • Facing the speaker fully (with you face, body, feet, etc.)
  • Eye contact at least 80% of the time
  • No immediate distractions (kids, phone, other commitments, etc.)
  • Refraining from the “Listening Roadblocks” stated above

Steps to Engaged/Reflective Listening

1. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes

2. Acknowledge what they have said

3. Ask “What is the most important part of what you have said?”

4. Help them work out what they would like to do

5. Ask “Is there anything else you would like to add?”

Practicing the Exercise:

❤ Get together with someone you would like to have a conversation with.

❤ Each of you chooses an issue that is currently upsetting or bothering you that you have not discussed recently. (Instead of going deep into an issue right away, you might want to pick an area of concern where there has not already been a huge conflict. This will allow you to practice the technique without heightened emotions.)

❤ Choose the speaker (The person speaking should hold a pen or a napkin – something to remind both people whose issue is being discussed.)

❤ The Speaker tells the Listener about the issue and how they feel about it — not going on for too long. It is helpful if the Speaker uses “I” instead of “You” statements. During this time, the Listener practices reflective/engaged listening.

❤ The Listener then asks, “What is the most important aspect of what you are saying?” The speaker responds and the Listener again practices engaged/reflective listening.

❤ The Listener then asks, “Is there anything you would like (or if appropriate: like me/like us) to do about what you have just said?” Again the Listener practices engaged/reflective listening.

❤ Finally, The Listener asks, “Is there anything more that you would like to say?” The Listener listens, practicing engaged/reflective listening.

An Example

My husband and I get together. We face each other and I am the Speaker so I hold onto a paper napkin. My husband practices “Engaged/Reflective Listening” (see steps above).

Me: “I am struggling with my feeling that I do so much around the house and have little time for my own personal interests. I know you do a lot to help out but I would really like some extra time to write and go to the gym on a more regular basis.”

My Husband: Stays engaged and simply listens without saying anything. When I am finished he says, “What is the most important aspect of what you are saying?”

Me: “The most important part of what I’m saying is that I would like to work together to create some extra time for me to be out of the house a few times a week for a few hours so I can work out and write in silence.”

My Husband: “Is there anything you would like )or if appropriate: like me/like us) to do about what you have just said?” Then he listens.

Me: “Yes I would love it if you could choose a few nights a week when you could pick up our daughter and have dinner ready so I can have that alone time.”

My Husband: “Is there anything more that you would like to say?” Then he listens.

Me“I think that is all I wanted to say.”

My Husband: Now it is his time to talk and share his feelings about what I have said. He has all the information and he can respond appropriately. If both people are committed to a healthy two-sided relationship, this would hopefully lead to some type of resolution.

Once the first issue is complete, you can switch places and the Listener can become the Speaker, taking the pen/napkin and beginning the process again. At this point my husband would get to share something that has been on his mind.

This first time would be great practice and from then on it could be used more naturally. The steps may not always be perfect, but the closer you can get to using the supportive language and practicing Engaged/Reflective listening, the more likely you are to get to a healthy resolution.

It might seem a bit cheesy in writing here but I encourage you to try it out because it works!

Even though my husband and I communicate well, this technique opened up a whole new way of relating to each other.

I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the steps and practice them with someone you trust. Once you feel comfortable with the technique, you can implement it in all your conversations, whether the other person is aware of the steps you are taking to listen well, or not.

It has the potential to improve ALL the relationships in your life!

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