husband wife talking 4 Square Listening Tool

The 4 Square Listening Tool

How to use it and why it works

*You can also watch Maurice explain this topic in a video training HERE.

Many of us find ourselves in conversations where we start to feel “flooded”.

This term is used to describe a complex psycho-biochemical experience where our ability to listen with an open mind is decreased and our impulse to fight/flight/freeze increases.

The 4 Square Listening Tool helps the listener stay present while the loved one is “sharing their feelings”. The use of this tool does not license the speaker to be abusive or inaccurate, but is intended to be used whether the speaker is doing their part correctly or not.

It is still the speaker’s responsibility to “If you don’t have the Spirit don’t talk.” (see Tetris Miscommunication Concept) But until the speaker gets good at keeping the Spirit while they talk, the listener needs a tool to help them be productive and edifying while they listen. Thus, the 4 Square Listening Tool.

As soon as you start to feel a conversation elevating in intensity, before you start to lose your cool, kindly say something like, “Hold on a minute, please. I would like to get a notebook and write things down while you are talking so I can concentrate better.” Most people will be pleasantly surprised the first time you do this, (unless you have sarcasm or negativity in your voice.)

On paper, actual or electronic, create the following 4 squares. (I prefer actual paper because it lends itself to more flexibility and avoids technical difficulties.) It does not hurt for both people to have their own piece of paper for when the speaker/listener rolls switch.

4 Square Listening Tool

Most conversations that I have observed or heard about spend most of the time in the top 2 squares. As soon as the speaker says something that feels or sounds inaccurate on the part of the listener, the listener interrupts and makes an effort to correct.

Unless of course they have tried this many times before, have been shut down and have just stopped trying. So, one of the first advantages of this tool is that it greatly decreases interruptions and arguments.

In my experience, upon review of an actual conversation, the speaker, after cooling down emotionally, is able to identify errors in the way they communicated. To the speaker, these errors are always insignificant, not part of the primary message they are trying to communicate. After the conversation has cooled off, if it is still necessary, the listener can request clarification and the speaker can provide clarification.

writing in journalThis tool allows for the listener to validate the speaker without agreeing with the speaker. By taking notes during the conversation and being attentive, the listener feels more heard.

If the speaker asks directly, “Do you agree with what I am saying?” the listener can respond with something like, “I haven’t had enough time yet to make a decision on that. For now I am just trying to make sure I understand you.”

The tool also allows the listener to prioritize what to argue over and what to leave alone when they become the speaker. Once the speaker starts to slow down, and the listener has asked something like, “Have you been able to share all the important things that are on your mind for now?”

And the speaker has said something like, “Yes, that is enough for now.” The listener can carefully review their notes. As they transition into becoming the speaker, they now have the responsibility to have the Spirit to be with them as they prepare to speak and participate in speaking.

The new speaker will need to be very selective about what elements on the 4 Square Listening Tool should be addressed next.

Another important element of this tool…it is annoying for us mortals to resign ourselves to the idea that our brains do not have unlimited holding capacity. I don’t know about everyone else, but I can hold about 3 important ideas at a time.

If more come then the first falls off the conveyor belt and I lose it. Many of us, when there are more than 3 items, will hold onto the first 3 and not hear anything that is said after that. The 4 Square Listening Tool allows the listener to keep track of everything they hear.

If the speaker gets going too fast, a simple, kind and soft gesture with both body language and words, “Hold on for just a minute. I really want to get this down right. Please let me finish taking this note before you share more with me.” Most speakers, (again, if the listener is being sincere) are happy to wait for a listener to take them seriously.

Preferably, ideally, when the listener transitions into the speaker, they will start by addressing the ideas listed under the bottom 2 squares. This lends itself to the beginning of an edifying conversation. In the end, the goal for interactions with people who are important to us…with people whom we love, is to exchange important thoughts and feelings with the hope of coming to a win/win understanding.

It is not always necessary for the listener to become the speaker right away. I can remember many times when what was said to me was going to take many hours to ponder in order to have a useful response.

If you, as the listener, sense this, just say so. “You have given me a lot to think about. I am going to take my notes and I will try to be like Moses, Nephi or Enos.

I'm Not Okay, You're Not Okay, but That's Okay book coverI will spend some time reviewing these things with God so I can have a wise and inspired response instead of an emotional and defensive response.” Then the real challenge comes for you, the listener, to follow through on that and return with honor.

NOTE: The above concept is just one of many taught by Maurice Harker. You can read many more relationship repair and rebuilding principles in the free eBook, I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay, But That’s Okay. Download HERE.

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