Listening for Understanding: The Prelude to Dialogue

There are five steps to remember:

1. Clear your mind.

  • Breathe deeply to relax
  • Focus on the other person

2. Find a way to follow closely what the other person is saying.

Use whatever technique works for you:

  • Repeat in your mind word for word what they are saying.
  • Settle into your most calm feelings and let their core message sink in.
  • “Try on” their ideas, setting aside your own ideas for the moment.
  • Picture a cartoon bubble over their head, then another over yours – let the bubbles float side by side, nor agreeing or disagreeing.
  • Take notes while they are talking if it helps you concentrate.

Note: When your mind wanders, repeat step one.

3. Summarize the whole message to yourself.

If there are different parts, list each part. If the other person wants to know if you’ve understood what they said – summarize for them what your heard.

4. Go back to your own thoughts and feelings.

Let them stay side by side with the other person’s thoughts and feelings.

5. When it is your turn to talk, remember to use words that show the other person how you have tried to understand their meaning.

Listening to Your Partner


  1. Ask yourself whether you’re calm enough to listen while setting your own interests aside for a few minutes.
  2. When you are ready, start by following the speaker, word for word, concept by concept, feeling by feeling. Give attention with a receptive heart so you can repeat what they-re saying with almost complete accuracy.
  3. Notice when you are interpreting rather than hearing what is being said.
  4. When your partner has completed an idea of feeling and pauses, repeat what was said and felt – at first do this word for word and identify the feeling as fully as you can. Don’t comment on whether you agree or disagree.
  5. Ask you partner if you’ve “got it.” If they say no, ask them to repeat, clarify or add to their idea or feeling.
  6. Listen again repeating steps two, three and four. Repeat this cycle until your partner says you understand them.


  1. Relax inside for a minute and ask yourself if you want to be understood without trying to convince the other person or get agreement.
  2. When you are ready, describe both your ideas and feelings in short segments – remember, several sentences (or about 30 seconds) is a lot for your partner to attend to and remember accurately.
  3. Talk only from your own perspective. Remember the other person will have their own perspective and they don’t have to agree with you to understand.
  4. When you’re finished, listen to their response to see if it is accurate. If it is, say so, and thank them. If not, realize that they are trying to understand, and repeat what you said again – as clearly and as calmly as you can.
  5. Repeat steps two, three and four until you feel understood.


  1. Switch roles every few minutes. Take short turns as a regular conversation does. You can listen more naturally this way.
  2. If you agree with your partner, keep it brief. If you want to add more, wait until it is your turn.
  3. If you feel like defending your point or you have a counter argument, take a deep breath and go back to the intention that you want to be understood, not that you need to defend yourself or convince your partner.
  4. Agreement and feelings of connectedness will come naturally over time using this process. The need to be right or have the most verbal power will only keep the conflict intact.
  5. This process is a prelude to negotiation or compromise. It is never a prelude to agreeing to disagree. These steps do not solve conflict, but they allow your hearts to remain open in order to clarify what you each believe.


for Safety

Read about Safety


for Understanding

Read about Understanding


for Dialogue

Read about Dialogue


for Strategies

Read about Strategies