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Listening: Seven Tools For Doing It Well

Listening involves more than you think! It takes work, focus, time, and energy. Are you up for the task? How important is it really? Learn seven critical tools for good listening!

Here is a scenario I see play out in my office over and over again: one spouse wishes the other would speak up more. They are frustrated thinking that the other doesn’t really care to make the relationship work because they won’t talk. I have seen wives who wish their husbands would talk more and husbands who wished the same of their wives. I have seen parents who wish their teens would talk more or team leaders who are frustrated because they can only get a few of their group members to share their ideas. What’s wrong? Why does this happen?

I can tell you one of THE biggest factors has to do with listening.

I shared a PLEDGEtalk Facebook post this week, that said: “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters. Think about it.”

The person in front of you–whether it is your spouse, your daughter, or the team–won’t believe you are ready and willing to listen unless you are silent.

That means:

  1. you are looking intently at them.
  2. you will be sure not to have a frown on your face but an expression that portrays the idea that you care what they have to say.
  3. you will be patient, for as long as it takes for them to gather their thoughts. And when they do begin talking, you will do everything you can to make sure you don’t interrupt or interject. Instead, you will work hard to stay focused on each word and sentence that comes out of their mouth.
  4. you will wonder and maybe ask why they chose the words they did to describe how they are feeling or to explain their perspective on a matter.
  5. you will be intrigued with what they are saying while at the same time actively putting your own thoughts and reactions up on a shelf in your mind. Note I did not say put them under a rug to be buried, but up on a shelf for later. Your ideas, your reactions can’t be your focus–not if you are listening. Makes sense?
  6. you will keep working at putting your reactions on the shelf while staying SILENT and listening.
  7. And the only time you will speak is for the purpose of clarifying what the other has said or echoing back to make sure you heard correctly.

THAT is real listening!

When a person finally gets the experience of someone genuinely listening, they believe they matter and find their voice!

Now a few words of caution:

  • You may try using the seven tools above and not see the same intended results as I get. Don’t despair or give up. Remember I have been doing this for years as my profession! Go back through the list above to see if you missed anything and keep working at it. It also might take the quiet person awhile to believe that you really are sincere.
  • You may use any or all of the above tools and see quick results. Beware. If these tools are not already part of who you are, you will quickly forget them, fall into old patterns, and watch the person in front of you once again fade away into silence. If this happens, take note, admit what you just did (i.e. interrupted, or reacted, or grew impatient, etc.) and ask them if they would continue to share while you work once again at listening well.
  • You may grow weary or discouraged when you see how much work it takes to really listen well. You may even be tempted to think “if I have to go through all of that and more just to find out what another person is thinking, it’s not worth it. What they have to say must not be all that important.” You couldn’t be farther from the truth. Rather, they are like a mine full of precious jewels just waiting to be discovered!

Most of the breakthroughs I see in my office between spouses, or between parents and a child come when they learn to really listen. When truly listening, we give the gift of being heard. It’s when tears are most apt to appear, and real connection begins!

Think of the last time you felt really heard by someone. What was it they did to make you feel that way?  Let me know below!! I always appreciate your comments–it is encouraging to me as I feel like I am being heard!  :)

(Thanks to www.123rf.com for picture: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_iqoncept’>iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo</a>)

Focus on THIS and Have Better Holidays!

This week I was invited to be a guest lecturer at Oral Robert’s University by my daughter who is a Professor in their Social Work department. I taught the students in her Intro To Counseling class about the deepest longings of the human soul: significance and security. It’s a teaching that has absolutely changed the course of my life and all my relationships.

There is a story where Jesus is speaking to a woman who is clearly broken in life. She is seeking to be loved but instead, finds herself being used by one man after another. Jesus meets her while getting water at a well and He says something that at first might seem very strange. He says: “you know if you drink from Me you will never thirst again!”

Huh?  Jesus is making reference to an idea that is true of all of us.

We are thirsty people and we move from one person or thing to another, to fill ourselves up and quench that thirst.

But what is it we are thirsty for? What is it that resides at the deepest levels of you and I that drives everything we do and say?

If you stop long enough and think, you would begin to say it is a desire for things like:









To know that you matter

To have impact


To know you have value

If I could boil them all down into two ideas, I would use the words: significance and security.

You and I desire to experience both. In reality, however, desire is not a strong enough word. It would be more accurate to use Jesus’ metaphor—that we thirst. We are in such great need of experiencing significance and security that we thirst for them. It is as if we need and require them to such a degree that we will do virtually anything to get those needs met.

When a man faces questions he doesn’t have answers to as a husband and father, he turns more to his work—which is easier to master—because he is so thirsty for significance. When a woman struggles in her connection with her husband, it is often more tempting to let down her guard and enjoy the perceived love from another man—because she is so thirsty for security. Often as we learn the history of killers and abusers in our country, it is not uncommon to hear of them having been abused and abandoned as children. In their emptiness, they strike out in an effort to feel significant and secure—albeit in the worst of ways.

When Jesus said to the woman “if you drink from me, you will never thirst again,” he was saying: “in your attempts to find love and security, you have had one failed relationship after another. I am asking you to follow me where you will experience a relationship like none other. I will love you unconditionally. My love will NEVER change, and therefore you will always be secure. Add to that, I am willing to give my life for you because of your supreme value. Yes, you are that significant in my eyes!”

Every one of us is in need of significance and security—just like this woman in the story. And Jesus offers each of us the same invitation as he did the woman when he says “follow me!”

How does this relate to communication and family gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Great question!

Most of us are around more people than usual at the holidays. That time spent can be wonderful; it can also be hard and stressful. But if you remember what I have shared, you can make the upcoming holidays the best ones yet. Here’s how: keep in mind—EVERYONE wants to know they are significant and secure, right?

In your interactions with them, you have a choice: you can spend the bulk of your time seeking to meet YOUR NEEDS for significance and security by doing things like:

  • controlling the conversations to feel important;
  • or telling the best joke to have an impact;
  • OR by doing whatever you can to keep people at a distance, keep conversations shallow, or simply avoid interactions altogether to keep yourself secure.

On the other hand, you could stay focused on the idea that everyone around you is in need of feeling significant and secure like you and help meet that need in them. For instance, you could:

  • seek out that one who is quiet and engage her or him in conversation so they feel like they matter;
  • help out more with the cooking and cleaning so no one feels alone;
  • tell a young person or child you are proud of them for what they have accomplished or tell them of a character quality in them you appreciate, so they feel significant;
  • remember the PLEDGEtalk principles of listening well in conversation, echoing back what was said, and acknowledging your appreciation for them sharing—so they feel validated and genuinely cared for.

In short—you and I can focus more on getting own needs met during the Holidays or focus more on meeting the needs of others.

Adults and children alike, all long to know they are significant—that they matter; and they all long to know they are secure—that they are loved and wanted. Do what you can during the upcoming holidays to show those around you that they matter and you care for them. It just might make this season the best one yet!

Share this with one friend or family member to help them during their time with family too!

(Picture taken from: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_rawpixel’>rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo</a>)

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Running again? Do This Instead:

Ok, straight up. I am not talking about literal running–like when you put those colorful shoes on. I am talking about running from disappointment in life.

Recently when experiencing some hurt in a relationship, I suddenly became aware of something interesting that happened in me: I could feel my mind turning to other matters–almost as if it had to for some reason. I wondered why and then understood: I was shifting my focus. I was turning my attention from that which was causing the pain, to more pleasant matters so I would no longer hurt.

And at that moment I caught a glimpse of the answer to a question I have had time and again as I have worked with couples where one spouse or the other simply walked away. Oh, I know it is never that they “simply” walked away. I know there is much anger, pain, and despair. But still, I have always wondered–especially when kids are involved–how do they walk out and run from the situation? How do they deal with their pain by running?

They do what I did on only on a much greater scale. In running as fast and as hard as they can, they turn their focus to other matters, to deaden the pain.

It makes sense.

I understand.

No one likes pain.  Selah (often meaning, “pause and think of that.”) Sadly, however, that’s not the end of the story.

When running to avoid pain, we end up pushing away those whom we love the most.

We push them out of our minds; we push them away from our presence as we busy ourselves with other concerns. It is a very subtle step taken in the direction of self-preservation, often something we don’t even realize we are doing. The more it happens, the more distance it creates in the relationship, until there is a great chasm that seems impossible to ever cross again.

At this point, things often go from bad to worse. The disappointment in our relationships surfaces again and again in spite of our greatest efforts to keep our minds focused on other matters. The temptation to run to even stronger distractions seems completely justifiable. Even a must. The stronger distractions–working longer hours, drinking, sex, eating, gambling, spending money–become addictive. They are relied upon again and again as seemingly the only way to dull the pain. Ultimately they destroy, the person and their relationships.

I am reminded of the truth, “whoever seeks to save his life (by running) will lose it.” (Luke 17:33)

The solution?

We must face the disappointment, hurt, and pain in our relationships at every level.

We must learn to stay engaged without reacting or running away to other distractions. We must discover how to relate throughout our conflict in good, strong, and healthy ways to those around us even when hurt. As my son wrote in the Foreword of my book,  “…people most effectively resolve conflict when they become strong communicators.”

Understand my son is NOT saying strong in the sense of standing up for our rights and telling others where they are wrong. No, he is saying strong in the sense of not giving in to fear, but learning instead how to speak the truth with love and respect. We must be strong in the sense of not giving way to our reactive tendencies, but rather mastering the ability to listen well and learn what we might be missing in any given conversation.

This is not an easy task. It will take much work, and require much learning. But it is good, right, and God-honoring.

It is why we created PLEDGEtalk–to train people how to use principles that are vital to our everyday interactions and to guide us through the most difficult moments in conversation.

If you are reading this and have not already signed up for my PLEDGEtalk blog, you can do so at  https://pledgetalk.com and download a FREE and complete overview of the PLEDGEtalk process to healthy communication and conflict resolution guide. (And if you do get my blog but did not get the PLEDGEtalk Guide and want a copy, email me for your FREE copy:  mark@pledgetalk.com)

Don’t run or even walk from your pain. Learn from it. Learn in the midst of it. You will grow stronger when you do and discover more of what it takes to build strong relationships. Recognizing I was running from the pain in my relationship enabled me to stop in my tracks. It helped me to see that I had and always have a choice–to stay and love well even when it hurts or to run. Staying is harder at the moment, but leads to joy later; running is easier at the moment, but leads to sorrow later. We either must choose to endure whatever pain we are experiencing in a relationship as we seek to lovingly work it out, OR we become someone who now inflicts pain on others through reacting or pushing them away.

Ouch! That’s something to really consider.

If you have found this blog post or the PLEDGEtalk process helpful, would you share this with one friend today?

Thank you!

This is CRITICAL When In Need of Forgiveness:

A friend who betrays you. A boss who loses his temper and shames you in front of others. Infidelity by your spouse. A father who abused you. A parent who abandoned you. With each wrong done, and pain endured, there is a person who stands in need of forgiveness.

Most of us have experienced pain like this at some time in our lives, or we know someone who has. Many have also been the cause of great pain to others.

When seeking forgiveness you must communicate patience!

It is a stirring moment when one who has done great harm comes to recognize what they have done and truly seeks forgiveness and restoration. A wrong assumption however, often accompanies the occasion. It is this: “if I confess my wrong and ask forgiveness, the one I am speaking to must not only forgive me, and do it now, but must be willing to move on from what has happened and not look back.”

Not so.

I understand why we want to believe that. When we realize we have hurt someone, we hurt too. Often however, our apology is motivated by the hopes of closing the case so we don’t have to hurt anymore. We don’t want to enter into the pain we caused the other or stay with them for as long as it takes to forgive us and come out from under the damage that was done.

What must be understood, however, is how critical PATIENCE is at this point in the relationship!

When we ask another to forgive us for the wrong we have done and pain we have caused, we must be patient for the healing process to run its course.

A general rule of thumb might be: the amount of time given to heal must be commensurate with the severity of the wrong done.  


  • You forget to pick up the butter on the way home? No big deal.
  • You forget to pick up your child from daycare on the way home, a bit different.
  • You forget to do either of the above 10 times, even more different.
  • OR, you lose your temper with your employees once in the last 3 years vs. you lose your temper every week. If the latter, you better believe it is going to take quite a bit longer for your employees to believe you when you announce that you are going to change the way you communicate and no longer lose your temper!

We have a tendency to minimize wrongs we have done and even more so, the effects of a wrong we have done.

Take the example of an affair–a great and painful wrong that happens quite frequently in marriage. Think more carefully with me about just a few of the effects:

  • Mutual trust is broken. What enables all relationships to endure is trust. From the moment a relationship begins, the question of trust is foremost in each one’s mind. Is this person who they claim to be? Am I willing to entrust who I am and all I have to them? Most marriages start out with a good if not full amount of trust. What enables that relationship to grow stronger throughout the challenges of life is the assurance of trust in each other. When that trust is broken, the offended party thinks: if I can’t trust him or her in this area of life, how can I trust them in any area of life together? Over time, this is likely lead to a serious decline in the relationship.
  • Then of course, there is the exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. Many who have had affairs don’t even seem to think about this. Furthermore, they don’t stop to consider the likelihood of passing on to their spouse–the mother or father of their children–a disease that could even shorten their life!
  • The introduction of fear into the relationship. What was once not even a concern, now becomes one every day throughout the day. Will he or she do this again? What are they up to now? Why isn’t he or she returning my texts or phone calls more quickly?
  • The effects of the affair are suddenly multiplied when the children find out. They are afraid. Trust is lost. Hurt and anger brew. They need to talk but don’t know who to talk to, so they bury what’s going on inside. A whole new set of problems emerge if they aren’t told until later in life: How come you didn’t tell us ‘til now? We have trusted you all our lives, and now we hear this? Now I am not sure where or how or if I can trust you anywhere!
  • Of course, then there is the question of divorce. Will the offended party forgive or will they seek a divorce? And in the latter case, the problems simply multiply exponentially.

I have listed only five of the effects of the great pain caused by the wrong of an affair. I didn’t talk about the feelings that will have to be deal with such as anger, hatred, confusion, or loneliness; or the effect on extended family members or friendships; or the effect on the other person’s self-image. And what about the possibility of pregnancy that could have taken place? And even blackmail? The list goes on!

Such great cost that one great wrong can have in a relationship! Simply apologizing to the offended party is not enough.

To heal a relationship from a wrong done, yes you must have genuine sorrow and seek forgiveness. BUT THEN, you must communicate you will be patient as long as necessary for the other to heal!

If now or at any time in the future, there is a need for you to confess a wrong done such as I have written about, I would urge you to communicate in a way similar to the following:  “I have hurt you by doing __________. What I did was wrong, and I am so sorry. I grieve for the pain I have caused you and the damage that has been done. I ask your forgiveness, giving you as much time as you need to be able to forgive me and reconcile our relationship.”

Then pray. Pray that God would give you the patience you need, and pray for the one whom you offended. When forgiveness and restoration of relationships take place, it is truly a grace of God!

Though forgiveness is only one key to a successful marriage, it is certainly one of the most important. What would you add to what I have written in regards to the need for patience when asking forgiveness? What makes it so hard to do?  I welcome your comments below!