I have very poor hearing. I do not really know why, but people will often speak to me, and I have no idea that they are even talking to me, let alone be able to hear what they have to say. I encourage people to have my full attention before talking, largely because I need for someone to have my attention in order for me to actually hear them. If that was all there was to it, then this would be a very short blog. But just like being alone does not mean that someone will be lonely, or not being alone means you will not be lonely, hearing someone does not mean that you are truly listening.
Truly listening is what starts a conversation and maintains the positive relationship between two or more people. Listening involves looking at a person in the eye, hearing what they are saying (while not formulating your own response), looking at their body language and listening for tone, and then reflecting back what you heard them say. If you are correct in your reflection, then you can respond. But until you are correct in your reflection, and the speaker is able to say you are accurate, you are doing yourself and others a disservice, because you do not actually know what they mean.
While I appreciate the value of technology, I believe that social media is slowly eroding our ability to listen, and worse, it is eroding our relationships with others. When we can sit behind a computer and say what we want, we are not able to see the other person and see their hurt, their pain, or even their joy. When we cannot hear a tone, because it is sent through a text message, we assume we know what the tone is. For whatever reason, we tend to assume that the tone is negative. Technology is not the avenue to have serious conversations, no matter how much easier it is to have the conversations in that fashion. We want to have them via text, email, or online precisely because it is easier.
It might be particularly important to think about how well you listen to children. We expect for children to have “good listening ears” and respond exactly how we want them to. And yet, we often do not give our children our full attention, and when we do, we tend to side with adults, ignore their thoughts, and dismiss or invalidate them. You might be surprised at what you learn about your children if you really listen to what they have to say. Consider the most recent tough conversation you had with a child. If your partner, spouse, or a friend spoke with you in the same way, would you be okay with that? If you came home and told your partner, “my boss got so angry with me today, he called me in to his office and yelled at me,” and your partner responded with “well, you must have done something wrong, or you wouldn’t have gotten in trouble, so don’t complain to me” how would you react? Steaming mad, right? But now make it a child who says “my teacher yelled at me today and took away my recess and I didn’t even do anything” and you respond with “well, you must have done something or your teacher wouldn’t have given you a consequence, so I don’t want to hear your whining” and it seems less unreasonable. But does it really? Is it really reasonable that we invalidate children’s feelings at every opportunity, and then say we don’t understand why they don’t share, talk, or trust?
Listening is not about solving someone-elses problem. In many cases, trying to solve the problem will actually exacerbate the issue. Unless the speaker asks you to give them suggestions, I challenge you to see what it is like to just sit with them, hear their struggles and feelings, and then ask how you can help them. You might be surprised to find that that is all they needed. Trying to insist that you can somehow solve the other person’s problem is relaying to that person that you do not feel they are competent and that you are somehow morecompetent at life than they are, because you did not bother to ask them if they wanted feedback. Trying to solve a feeling by being angry and “rational” about it will only increase the intensity of the feeling. So, in the words of a training that I offer, just stop talking, you might be amazed.
Listening is not as easy as it “sounds.” Listening is hard work, and until you can truly listen to someone, you might consider how many words you say throughout the day, and whether or not those are life affirming, relationship words, or whether they are hurtful, even if well intended, words.