Listening = Open & Shut Case
Hearing is easy. Listening is work. You know that lovely mouth that God blessed you with? Sometimes, you just have to shut it!
That may sound harsh but, seriously, one of the best gifts we can give to anyone–family, friend or stranger–is our listening ears. Not our motor-mouths.
Our focus here is especially on communicating well with our kids, but we’ll get there by looking first at listening, in more general terms.
We have all seen many versions of “listening.” And we have, all of us, used each of these ways. Let’s take a look at them.
Listening, Level One
At its minimum: Hearing noise go on, and noise go off.
Have you ever poured your heart out to someone and then realized they really didn’t hear a word you said? It doesn’t feel very good when that happens. The participation from our listeners, at the most, involves “uh-huh” and “okay.” Not much connecting takes place between the two parties involved. Like in Simon and Garfunkel’s, Sounds of Silence, level one is “hearing without listening.” [If you haven’t heard the amazing cover by Disturbed, go here.]
Listening, Level Two
Is it my turn to talk yet?
It is common for us as “listeners” to get so caught up in what we are going to say when the other person is done talking that we stop listening mid-sentence. We get so involved in how we are going to share our story once the talker stops talking, we forget the importance of listening to them and their story. Some connection may happen here. But not much.
Listening, Level 3
Focusing and listening to only the words.
The next stage of listening is to hear the words but not truly comprehend what the person is communicating. If we just focus on what is being said, we miss an enormous amount of information being sent our way. Words can often communicate one thing while a person means another.
Sometimes our impatience gets in the way, and we find ourselves thinking, “What is the point of all this information that you are telling me?” Some information may be shared back and forth, but the meaningful connection you want may not take place.
Listening, Level 4
Finally, listening at its finest!
Here, we truly hear. We actively, intentionally give our full attention to the whole person. We listen not only to their words but the emotions in their voice. What do you hear behind the words? Do they sound fearful, angry, irritated? Look at the person’s facial expressions as they speak. What are their eyes telling you? Are they on the verge of tears or are they looking away as if to hide something? How about the color in their face? Are they blushing because they are embarrassed or are they flushed because they are angry? What is the rest of their body doing? Is their body posture stiff or slumped? What are they doing with their hands? Are they flying around erratically or in a tight ball with fingernails digging into their skin? How about their legs? Are they doing sewing machine legs? You can pick up a lot of meaning behind the words by paying attention to all of the signals.
We’re not quite done, though, with listening on purpose.
1. Stop or Reschedule
You can only do this by stopping whatever else you are doing. If you can’t stop what you are doing, the best way to go is to tell the person you want to do a good job of listening to them but that right now you can’t. Come up with a plan to talk again within the same day, if possible. This way you can give them your full attention.
2. “You Assume Too Much”
One mistake we can make even when we are listening fully is to assume what the person is going to say. So we jump in and interrupt. Well, many years ago I was shown on a chalkboard that if we take the word assume and dissect it, the result is that when we ass/u/me, we make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” A funny little message but one I have never forgotten. It is easy to do, especially when we are feeling impatient and crunched for time. Doing so can make a person feel disrespected which often will shut them down emotionally. This is painful for them. Not a good way to go. Of course, there is the occasional time when the speaker is struggling to find the word, and they ask for help. Then suggest a word or two but don’t jump in too much.
When It Comes to Our Teens
Why do I bring all this up?
Because when it comes to talking to our children, these are mistakes we as parents often make. From the time they can speak, our kids are often asking us questions throughout the day. So we are constantly answering them, whether we are busy or not. After a while it is easy for us to want to cut to the chase, anticipate the question and answer it before they even get to ask it, so we can move on to what is next on our to-do list. Without realizing it, we can develop habits that negatively impact our relationships with our kids as they get older.
It’s important to catch ourselves and change our bad habits before our kids become teens because our teens won’t put up with it. It hurts our children’s feelings when they are younger, but when they become teens, it just plain ticks them off. It’s an efficient way to create a great divide between you and your teen. So, I encourage you to get a handle on it if you haven’t yet.
Here is why it is most important during the teen years to be a good listener.
The three most important things to teens are:
- Knowing that they are loved
- Knowing that they are understood
- Knowing that they are respected.
Listening is Key!
When we listen, we are communicating
I love you, and I respect you, how you feel and what you have to say.
Now to fulfill the need each of us has for being understood, there is one more thing we can do. As you gather all this information by listening and observing, it is important for you to occasionally double check to see if you correctly understand what they are saying and feeling. Here is an example of me asking a question of my teen back in her middle school days, Okay if I hear what you are saying, you are struggling in Algebra. But you are nervous about asking your teacher for help because you are afraid that she will get mad at you. Is that correct?
Doing this is important for two reasons: 1) You communicate with your teen you are listening and wanting to understand. 2) If you aren’t quite following what they are saying, they can clarify it for you.
If they get a little frustrated with you for not getting it the first time, just make it clear you really want to understand. Say, “Please help me get it.” Sometimes, they get so self-conscious that having to say it again makes them more uncomfortable. Ultimately, though, it is better that you understand them and that they know you understand. It is worth the ask. So ask.
A Final Tip
Once our kids become teens, we need to change the way we talk to them. Speaking and listening to them with respect—just as if we were talking to an adult—becomes critical. Even if what they say sounds immature and silly, be respectful. This is one big way we can help our teen move from childhood to becoming an adult. It is also one of the best ways for you to keep a healthy relationship growing and blooming between you and your teen.
Great Listening = Shut and Open Case
It is by fully listening to our teens that we are communicating, “I love you. Your feelings matter.” By asking just a few questions, we will both understand our teens and they will feel understood. Finally, by talking to them like an adult we are saying, “I respect you and want to hear what you have to say.”
So what do you think? Is this resonating with you? Give it some thought. Reflect on how you interact with people, especially the kids in your life. A little reflection can go a long way with your relationships. Please, share below.