The next session of the Parenting Well resource group begins in less than two weeks, (sign up here!) and I’m still thinking about all things listening. After last week's post about listening well, I came up with a few more thoughts that will guide your attempts at improving in this area. If you’re thinking about attending the group, starting a listening partnership, or working on being a better listener in general, try implementing some of these understandings.
1. People are doing their best. They really are. And usually people have a positive intention behind their actions, as well. Learning the reason why a person is doing something can make all the difference into understanding their position. Adopting the mindset that someone is actually already doing their best is important to discovering someone’s position. If you assume the person needs your help and is doing a terrible job, you will never really understand them.
People get stuck, they make mistakes, they do the same things over and over, but there is always a positive reason why. When people repeat themselves in conversations or when patterns of behavior emerge in life, a good listener gets curious, not judgemental. Judgement is our way of managing our own anxiety and annoyance, it is never helpful in really connecting and understanding someone. People need permission to find their square one. It might not be the square one you’d like them to be at, but it’s their actual square one and that’s where they have to start. As a listener, you’ll have the opportunity to either compare and judge or to connect, but you won’t be able to do both. Assume people are doing their best and it will change you both.
Tip: We want to judge people’s situations because of fear. As a listener, notice the times you start thinking the other person is annoying or making a mistake or doing the wrong thing. Ultimately, those are the moments that reveal your own issues and needs.
Helpful phrases: When you notice you’re starting to judge, think to yourself, “I see I’m becoming critical of this person, I wonder why this is hard for me.”
2. Referring breaks trust. Trust is essential. After you listen to another person’s story, especially during listening partnerships, it’s important that you keep confidentiality. Confidentiality means you never need to speak of the topic again, unless the other person brings it up. Don’t bring up the sensitive or personal things in another conversation with the person who shared them or with other people either: your partner, mutual friends or even strangers. It’s not yours to talk about. Further, you can talk about your own hard day at work or your own stressful relationship without referring to the other person’s story. Once a person shares and you respond with empathy, move along. Let it be their choice to open up that subject again. Establish norms for your conversations. Sometimes people might like to be checked on or have some follow up, but let them request it and be sure to clarify what kind of accountability they seek and how it should look for them.
Tip: Imagine all the personal details you’ve just heard are going into the other person’s purse. Once they are done, imagine the purse being zipped up and put away. And just like a real purse, you wouldn’t go off unzipping their purse and pulling things out later on, you’d let that be up to them.
What not to say: “it’s just like how you were saying that you can’t get your life together…”, “hey! How is that addiction recovery going?” Or “when you were telling me about your problems I couldn’t help but think about my own similar issue and how the exact same thing happened to me.”
3. Learning comes by doing. When it comes to listening, I’m always learning and improving. Making listening my business didn’t make me suddenly perfect at it. But getting good listening time with listening partnerships completely transformed my experience as a mother, friend, wife and human being. Having another person listen well to you is the most powerful way to learn the benefits of good listening. When you are listened to by someone who believes in you, offers you unconditional acceptance and empathy, reminds you of how capable you are, who checks their judgement, personal stories, interruptions and advice at the door, it’s impossible for your own listening skills not to improve. The rewards of improved listening skills trickle down into our parenting, our romantic relationships and our friendships.
Tip: If you’re wanting to practice these tools and reap the rewards of listening well, consider finding a listening partner at my upcoming free parent resource group. You could also attend a compassionate listening group (message me for details) or visit twelve step groups where they practice many of these listening guidelines.
The Parent Resource Group begins May 3rd, 2016! That means in just under two weeks our small group of parents will be gathering to talk and listen and support each other with real life issues and real life tools that work! Curious about listening partnerships? Want to know more about the group format or the free booklet? Let me know, I am happy to answer your questions and get you started on this meaningful process.
If you're looking for more specific support and help, I also offer individual counseling over the phone. I help clients deal with old traumatic or overwhelming events that are blocking their current ability to be a good listener or to create meaningful relationships in their life. I help my clients become more connected in relationships, less overwhelmed in life and more capable of creating the life they really want. Consultations are free, please don't hesitate to email or call me with questions about how I might help your current situation.
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