Jack Russell listening with one ear up

Shut Up To Improve Communication Skills! Marriage and Parenting Advice From a Family Mediator

I used to interview prospective staff for a residential treatment program before I became a family mediator.

Whenever I asked them to describe qualities that would make them a good child care worker I was invariably told something like, “I love to help people and I’m a GREAT listener.”

Yet, when I would walk in to a room while they were working with an upset resident I would hear their voice more than that of the student.

Hmm. Curious.

Do you know folks like these newly hired child care workers who proclaim to be great listeners but don’t act the part?

I bet you do.

Haven’t you noticed that lots of people who declare themselves to have great listening skills tend to:

  • Dominate conversations
  • Interrupt
  • Talk about themselves…a lot
  • Make assumptions about the other person
  • Give advice very quickly
  • Repeat themselves…repeatedly

Great listeners?


These folks are great talkers!

A Truth About Communication Skills

Here’s the rub.

Talking at someone has nothing whatsoever to do with listening to someone.

The two are not even in the same ballpark!

Yet for some reason good talkers usually think they are good listeners.

These great talkers may like to help others.

Take the child care workers.

When they would tell me in their interviews that they wanted to help kids and were great listeners they were speaking from the heart. They truly meant it.

And when I talk about my dream of playing shooting guard for the Boston Celtics I mean it too! But just because I am motivated to play for the Celtics, I don’t have the shooting, passing or dribbling skills to pull it off (and if you know me, you’re probably laughing).

Helping requires skill too.

And one of the fundamentals is listening.

Listening is a skill that can help people far more powerfully than any amount of chatter.

Even if it’s well-intended chatter.

Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. Almost all of us from time to time could listen better. That goes for this divorce mediator as well!

Sometimes thinking we are a good listener is really code for being a great talker!

My Family Mediator Listening Litmus Test

If you hear yourself utter any of these phrases, consider them warning signs that your listening skills are of the talking variety.

  • That happened to me when I…
  • You know, all you need to do is…
  • You’ll be fine…
  • Oh, you’re not going to believe what happened to me last week…
  • That reminds me of…
  • I have a friend who went through the same thing and she…

See Yourself Here? How To Improve Communication Skills That Will Help Your Marriage and Parenting

If any variation of these type of statements come out of your mouth try one of the following tips:

  • Shut your mouth! Seriously, STOP talking!
  • Don’t assume you know what is going to be said and keep an open mind
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Ask a question for clarification purposes…only after the person pauses first
  • Remind yourself that “it’s not about me right now” and focus on the other person
  • Remember how crummy it feels when someone talks at you when you just need someone to listen
  • Focus all of your energy on what the other person is saying, not on your watch or someone across the room
  • Do not impose your solutions on the other person — if they want your suggestions they will ask

And then, after all of that, pause for a moment.

Take a breath.

And then take pride that you truly helped your kid or spouse.

What other suggestions do you have to improve listening skills?

If you comment below I promise to LISTEN, just as any good family mediator should!

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