How to listen There are two ways to listen:
- Listening to reply.
- Listening to understand.
The first is the one most of us use. While our teen is talking, we’re formulating our response: a comment, advice, a criticism, a rebuttal, a correction, a suggestion, or an opinion.
But it’s amazing what can happen when you stop rehearsing your answers and just pay attention.
Larry King said, “I never learned anything while I was talking.”
How unfortunate. I know what he means, but if you’ve ever spent time with a good listener, you know how much you learned!
Some of the greatest insights I’ve ever had came in those moments when I was talking to someone who was really present, really listening. They didn’t challenge me or interrupt to offer their opinion. They just listened and gave me a chance to hear my own words and think about what I was saying. And in their comfortable, attentive silence I found the space to really consider what I was saying and think things through. Because they didn’t judge me, I felt safe to say whatever I wanted, without feeling defensive – and I also felt safe enough to change my mind!
Listening is about connecting with someone with the intent to understand.
There are tremendous benefits to you as the listener:
- As you focus on connecting and understanding, it becomes easier to stop taking things personally.
- Focusing on what your teen means (rather than just their words or your response) will quiet your mind.
- Really paying attention to what your teen thinks and feels will make them more real as people, more uniquely individual.
- Non-judgemental listening makes it safe for your teen to think more – and share more.
There are two key tools that can help you become a better listener:
Most people don’t know the difference between understanding and agreeing. And most people think, “If you really understood me, you’d agree with me!” If this is what you think, it’ll be almost impossible for you to acknowledge your teen’s opinions. After all, understanding is agreement. Fortunately, you don’t have to agree with someone to let them know they’ve been heard.
An acknowledgement lets your teen know that you understand and value his or her opinion – not that you agree with or approve of the content.
Here are some examples:
- “Thanks for sharing that with me.”
- “I never saw it that way before.”
- “I feel like I understand you better now.”
- “That’s an interesting way of looking at it.”
- “You’ve given me a lot to think about.”
- “I’m so glad you took the time to explain that to me.”
- “I hear you.” (My daughter’s favourite!)
Can you ask questions? Sure – as long as they’re not leading or challenging. Avoid questions like these:
- “Don’t you think…?”
- “What about…?”
- “Have you considered…?”
Instead, use questions to clarify:
- “Okay. Tell me if I got this right.”
- “You lost me when you said (fill in the blank). Can you say it again?”
- “I’m not sure I know what you mean. Can you explain?”
Using these two tools will benefit you and your teen. Use them for a few days and see what a difference they make! Note: These tools will improve all the rest of your relationships, too!
Sue Kranz, 2012