Kinky Koach shares the TOMCAT method of active listening and how it can improve relationship communication.
By Kinky Koach for ASN Lifestyle Magazine
TOMCAT for the Win!
How long can you stay focused on an important conversation that your significant other is having with you? Are you able to focus more intently when they are naked? Were you even paying attention at all? I know, you think that you are an excellent listener, and I can imagine that you would argue with anyone who would disagree with you. If you agreed with that last statement, this article is for you.
The secret to becoming an excellent listener is active listening. Communication is a two-way street, and effective communication depends on how the sender and the receiver understand the message (Tennant & Toney-Butler, 2020). How many times have you asked your partner for something or expressed your needs and they just didn’t get it? Your message wasn’t clear and/or your partner didn’t ask for clarification.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is when we are listening to understand and not listening to respond to the speaker. If the following hypothetical exchange between Partner A and Partner B resembles the dynamics in your relationship it is genuinely coincidental:
Partner A: “You never let me finish a thought before you start talking about something that has nothing to do with what we were talking about! You never listen to me!”
Partner B: “I always listen! Remember last February when I listened to you and we had that threesome with that hot woman?”
I can only imagine that Partner B was thinking hard trying to figure out the last time they truly listened to Partner A. There are so many times that couples enter a conversation with their partner only to feel worse about the topic or situation than before they started due to feeling unheard. Or even worse, what was supposed to be a calm conversation turns into a huge explosion of emotions due to the listener champing at the bit to respond to what they felt like was a personal attack on their character. Does this sound familiar yet?
In a study organized by Faye Doell (2003), it was revealed that there are two specific types of listening: “listening to understand” and “listening to respond.” As one can imagine, those in the study who were found to be “listening to understand” reported having a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship. The others, who fell in the “listening to respond” category reported feeling less satisfaction and happiness in their relationship with their significant other.
I feel that I ________ listen to understand (or) ________ listen to respond.
I feel that my partner _______ listens to understand (or) __________ listens to respond.
Ask your partner to answer the same questions and compare answers.
Can TOMCAT help your relationship?
Now that you and your partner have agreed to disagree on who listens to understand and who listens to respond let’s discuss how active listening works and how it will completely change your relationship. Think TOMCAT.
T – Turn towards your partner
John Gottman (2012) conducted a research study with newlyweds and then followed up with them again in 6 years to study their overall happiness in their marriage. While many had divorced, he did find that those who had made it to their sixth anniversary turned towards their partners 86% of the time. Turning towards your partner allows them to see your sincerity and fosters a stronger connection.
O – Open posture
Your body language often tells more about you than your words at times. If you are sitting there your arms and legs crossed with an expression on your face that looks as if you just ate a sour candy then your partner isn’t going to want to pour their heart out to you at that moment. Open your posture and encourage your partner to feel comfortable telling you their concerns and needs.
M – Maintain eye contact
As Shakespeare famously declared, “The eyes are the windows to your soul,” maintaining eye contact with your partner indicates that you are interested in and care about what they are saying in that moment. If eye contact is uncomfortable for you use the 50/70 rule. Try to maintain eye contact 50% of the time when you are speaking to your partner and 70% when you are listening to them. Pro-tip: maintaining eye contact might help you win a trivia night if you are ever asked the color of your partner’s eyes.
C – Can’t interrupt
In his book How to be Heard, Julian Treasure describes interrupting as the “ultimate conversation killer,” further providing that there are two disastrous consequences from interrupting your partner (2017). First, when we interrupt our partner we don’t have the opportunity to truly hear what they are saying, and secondly, the interruption will damage the conversation by shifting the dynamics making the interrupter the dominant force in the conversation. This sudden flux in power can leave your partner feeling belittled and insulted causing them to shut down.
A – Ask open-ended questions
According to Miller and Rollnick (1991), the most effective way to facilitate a deeper conversation by asking clarifying questions with your partner is to pay attention to how you are phrasing the questions. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” These questions should encourage your partner to think critically and be more engaged in the conversation on a deeper level. Some examples of open-ended questions for this exercise could begin with the following words:
- What do you think about:
- How do you feel about…
- What would you have done differently?
- Why do you feel…
T – Take time to reflect
Reflecting on the conversation encourages you to find the meaning in the time you just invested in your relations as well as provide some closure for the topic discussed.
Communication is key, listening to understand is vital, and understanding your partner is imperative.
Keep it Kinky!
Stephanie, MS, NCC, LPC
Doell, F (2003). “Partners’ listening styles and relationship satisfaction: listening to understand vs. listening to respond.” Graduate thesis. The University of Toronto Psychology Dept.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2012). What makes love last: How to build trust and avoid betrayal. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (1991). Motivational interviewing: Preparing people to change addictive behavior. New York: Guilford Press.
Tennant, K., & Toney-Butler, T. J. (2019). Active Listening. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
Treasure, Julian. (2017). How to be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening (Communication Skills Book, For Fans of Speak With No Fear). Coral Gables, FL: Mango Publishing Group.
This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of ASN Lifestyle Magazine.