Are you REALLY Listening?
Who do you go to when you need someone to listen? Our furry family members are often the ones who hear our innermost secrets because they have mastered the art of listening.
But seriously, what does it mean to listen? To our spouses, our friends, our kids? I mean REALLY LISTEN.
How are they communicating with us? Are they crying? Are they laughing (awkwardly?)? Smiling? Pouting? Trying to use their words but just can’t get it out?
Listening is a skill I have really worked on over the past few years. I think I’m growing in this area but am often reflecting on what specifically is it that defines someone as a good listener. I was working with a group of teens in a leadership class setting and teaching them about “active listening” skills and what that looks like. We did some role playing around having someone tell them a story and how they can show support. We discussed body language and eye contact and the most important thing — keeping it about THEM and not us!
The number one thing I see adults, kids and teens do (& often myself but I try to be really conscious of it) when they have someone come to them with a story is turn it around and start telling their own story. Think about it. You see it (& maybe experience it) all the time. Someone vents or shares a moment and other people comment back with a story about themselves, something they struggle with. And while there is tremendous value in sharing OUR stories and struggles with those around us, I hope we can remember to give others that moment, THEIR moment to tell THEIR story without us flipping it around and being about us. If we are thinking about what WE are going to say next, then we aren’t listening to what they are saying now.
Active listening is a skill and an important one our children can only learn if we model it to them. So what is it and how can we use it show support to those who reach out to us?
Be attentive. Give them your whole attention and focus on them. Don’t have your phone out, turn your body towards them, look them in the eyes and “show” them you are listening.
Ask open ended & probing questions to help them tell you more and for you to truly grasp what they are trying to say. Don’t share your own story. Don’t agree or disagree with them. It’s important to find out the whole story and all the things they are trying to tell you.
Watch their body language and reflect their feelings. Match their mood with your facial expressions and your body language.
Paraphrase back to them and ask for clarification. Tell them what you are hearing and ask if that is what they mean. It’s important that they understand how their words are being understood. It is important that they know that what they are saying is what you are hearing.
When we do these 4 things and actively listen to what is being said with words AND what is being said through someone’s body language, then we are truly helping that person. Then we are showing empathy, understanding and caring. Then we are ensuring they are being heard. And isn’t that what we all want in the end?
To be heard. To feel cared for. To matter.