By , November 16, 2008 1:47 pm

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“Passive Listening: Just Being Quiet, Not Interrupting!

This is going to be extremely basic. And, maybe, extremely difficult!! All you are going to do is exchange equal, timed, passive listening turns with the other person, instead of arguing. Passive listening means you don’t say a thing, just let the other person speak without interruption. You don’t even have to try to use Pure Reflection, as in “Ahah” #2, Active Listening.

But, it can also be the most extremely powerful and successful intervention you can make in your relationships, so, please, give it a try. Through the Self-Help Package or Phone Coaching/Consulting available at Services and Programs of CEF, you will learn even more powerful Focused Listening skills which go way beyond passive listening.

But for now, you are just going to practice Passive Listening – being quiet, listening, not interrupting. Try to imagine what the whole world could be like if everyone knew just this one, simple self-help skill!” Stop for a moment to read the rest of the exercise from your Mini-Manual (download from link above) or the Passive Listening download on CEF Website.

The Basic Procedure

Here are the subheadings from the exercise in the download which lay out the basic steps of this very simple procedure:

Agree on a signal during a peaceful time
Set a timer and take a seat
Use the timer to keep turns exactly even
Yell at a blank wall, if needed
Just keep going
Caution: Professional help needed?
Online support for conflict resolution

And those are the basics of this very simple procedure, which can be taught to anyone in five minutes. Download the actual exercise, Passive Listening.

Is It Really That Easy?

Probably not. No, it will not be 100% effective. However, to be a “statistically significant” help, it would only have to work 60% of the time. And, after thirty years experience with it, that seems extremely likely.

And, I have not found anything else, short of professional counseling or mediation (and often, even then, I think this more powerful), which has a chance to become such a widespread “cure” for conflict.

Why does it work?

When people can speak without being interrupted, and without fear of interruption, they automatically become able to speak from their “intuitive feel” of the issue or situation, The Creative Edge, not the already-known logical arguments that cycle around and around without changing. It is from The Creative Edge, this “intuitive knowing” of the whole situation, that new ideas and action steps can arise.

And, when people share from The Creative Edge, and listen to each other, they become vulnerable, authentic, honest. They say what they really want and need. They become “lovable” and move the other person to compassion and a wish to find a solution. So, even “passive listening” creates the capacity for love and understanding.

Passive Listening Become A Cultural Norm? Example: Two People Arguing In A Store

Two people are arguing loudly in a store, screaming back and forth at each other. Their child is standing nearby, forgotten in their fury. Let’s imagine, in our new world where everyone, and I mean everyone, knows about taking passive listening turns for conflict resolution – just like everyone knows about reading and writing, or standing in line, or how to use an implement for eating.

So, a sales person or other staff of the store, or simply a bystander, another citizen, can simply say, “Oh, let me help you use Passive Listening Turns.” Mind you, this has become a cultural norm, just like driving on the right or left side of the street. Maybe there are even special rooms in public places where people can retreat for Passive Listening Turns. Maybe there are even specially trained mediators around, like there might be police or traffic cops.

So, because it is a norm they have been brought up with since childhood, the arguing people stop in their tracks and say, “Oh. Thanks. We had forgotten ourselves. And take their seats in the “safe place” set aside for such conflict processing (like everywhere there are bathrooms, baby changing tables, benches to rest, bus kiosks, first aid stations). And set the timer kept available.

So, they flip a coin to see who goes first, five minute or ten minute equal turns.

She starts. She is furious, not looking at him, sighing, turning from side to side, would really like to be still engaged in that furious tangle of yelling back and forth. She decides she needs to “yell at the wall” for a while, let some steam off before she can get any deeper into what is going on (but, remember, this kind of conflict processing is a “habit” in the culture, practiced since childhood, so she knows how to do it, what to expect, what to look for inside, eventually, the “hook” between them)

So, she yells at the wall for about three minutes, using swear words, saying all the worst she thinks about him and his behavior: “You selfish b______. I work so hard and you do nothing. I’m not letting you spend my money on that s____. I am furious. I am so tired of this and of you”, etc.

But, without response, pretty soon this energy runs out, runs down, and she begins to cry: “I’m just so tired. I’m so tired of our never getting ahead. I’m worried that your work is slowing down. I just can’t do it any more, carry all these burdens.” Her five minutes (or ten, whatever they negotiated) is up.

His turn begins (he is not so mad any more, having heard her words, seen her tears, seen her tiredness instead of just her anger): “I can’t go without something special. I just need to spend $10 once and a while on something that is just for fun. I can’t stand the drudgery, everything always the same. I wanted these sports cards because, for a few minutes, I could be happy looking at them—-I’m scared about my job, about the work slowing down — I don’t like it that you are making more money than me. I don’t like it that you treat me like a little boy getting an allowance— it makes me furious and ashamed.”

Not a total solution yet, but a “softening” on each side. It may take more turns. It may take more sessions. It may take professional help at some point. But, in this moment, the “horns locked” energy between them has been broken. Hopefully, they now have some “free emotional space” to care for their child, to not let the rage wash over there as well.

As long as they are not allowed (and have been trained from childhood how not to allow themselves) to get physically violent, or to shout back and forth, the angry assault will lose its fuel, and something new, a more Creative Edge, will arise in each of them, a more compassionate “touching,” more sympathy for each other. More willingness to look for solutions.

Please try out the protocol with your significant others this week. When there is not an argument happening, come to mutually understand the rules, find a safe spot, get a timer, and establish a “signal,” like “popcorn” that anyone (including your children) to remind you that a bad pattern of “assault” or “argument” is starting, and it is time to try Passive Listening Turns. Then, you can begin to be prepared when an actual argument arises. 

Tell me what you think at or comment on this blog below !

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 See Core Concept: Conflict Resolution to find a complete mini-course on Interpersonal Focusing and Conflict Resolution, including Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication, Blanchard’s “One Minute Apology,” Patricia Evan’s books on Verbally Abuse and Controlling Relationships, McMahon’s Beyond The Myth Of Dominance, and much more.

See Core Concept: Intimate Relationship to find a complete mini-course on increasing intimacy and sexuality, including the “Sharing Your Day” exercise, Listening/Focusing Partnerships for The Way of Relationship, untangling and equalizing desire, tantric sexuality, and much more.

Download complete Instant “Ahah!” Mini-Manual, in English and Spanish, from CEF Website, or download from links at top of this blog.

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Dr. Kathy McGuire, Director

Creative Edge Focusing (TM)


  1. […] what was your experience? Please email me. If you just joined this e-course, see last week’s Instant “Ahah!” #3: Passive Listening Turns Save the World? for an introduction and example of this […]

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