Communication: Understanding vs. Agreement

I work with many couples in my Grand Rapids counseling practice.  One of the big issues that comes up is communication.  You’ve probably heard this before but we all have a tendency to talk over each other and not really listen.  Instead, we’re waiting for them to stop talking so we can say what we want to say.  We also stop listening once we hear something we need to defend ourselves against.  This is not good communication.

When I see this happen in marriage counseling, the two people quickly reach the point of not even trying to understand eachother.  Once you’re at this point, you can forget about reaching any resolution to your problem.

Try to set feelings aside and understand what they are saying, even if you don’t agree with it. For example, I really don’t like RAP music but if I listen to someone explain why they like it, their reasons will probably make sense to me.  I’m not going to start listening to RAP, but I could better understand why some people do.  

To do this, you have to really focus on what they’re saying first, before worrying about making your counter argument.  If you do this, you’ll stop listening and frustrate the other person.

When people aren’t feeling heard or understood, they get frustrated and angry.  This is when the yelling and hurtful comments can start.  Once they are done talking, you can even say you want to paraphrase it back to them.  You can say something like, “Let me repeat that back to you to make sure I got that right.  You said …. Did I understand you right?”. Try not to sound like a therapist when you do this though or you’ll just annoy them.  If you got everything right, they’ll let you know.  If you missed something, they’ll add that in.

Once you do this, they’ll be much more inclined to listen to you in return.  Now you should be at the point of having a conversation instead of an argument. This is a healthier form of communication.

Sometimes it’s best to take some time to think about what they said before you respond.  You can just say something like, “You may have a point, let me think about that for a bit and get back to you.  Can we talk about it some more tonight?”

Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan.  He provides counseling for couples, teenagers, and adults.  He can help with anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, relationship problems, and more.  For more information, please visit the website at