Let’s face it, listening well is challenging. I for one can take up my fair share of conversation, especially if it’s something I’m passionate about. I’m mildly extroverted and therefore happy to fill the space with talking or making myself look smart. But I think that’s true for lots of us. The good news is, we can get better at listening with a little practice and a few guidelines.
As I get ready for the next session of the Parenting Well resource group, (sign up here!) I’m thinking about all things listening. 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.Interrupting slows things down. As much as it might feel like you’re helping someone “get to the point”, when you cut into what they’re saying by asking questions or making comments, it jolts them from their flow and means they have to acknowledge or respond to you before they can get back to where they were.
Tip: When you listen, imagine you’re at the orchestra. Don’t clap until the conductor’s arms are at their sides, otherwise you might find yourself clapping in the middle of the song. When you’re listening to someone else, wait until they are really done, not just until they pause.
Helpful phrases: “ Is there anything else?”, “may I say something?” or “would you like some feedback?”
2. Talking about your own similar problem too soon is changing the subject (and changing the subject is interrupting.) I know. You’re dying to launch into your own story and experience! But, if you choose to talk about yourself right away, you’re missing a huge opportunity for empathy. Consider letting the other person ask if you’ve ever had a similar experience before you jump into that ocean.
Tip: When you respond, pause and reflect the other person’s shared thoughts or feelings. Or even just acknowledge how courageous it was of them to be vulnerable and share with you.
Helpful phrases: “I hear you’re feeling ______ (list emotions you observed)”,“that DOES sound hard”, or “I am so glad you shared this with me.”
3. Giving advice undermines confidence. Advice is great for questions about removing laundry stains or handling recipe disasters. But when it comes to people’s lives and hearts, it’s not really needed. Analyzing people and giving advice is not really listening. It’s more like talking with breaks. If someone is telling you the details of their difficult day and you’re at the ready with a response, practical answers, or a quick fix, you might not really be listening. Let go of the need to be right and you’ll find that advice doesn't’ work half as well as listening does. When you listen for what’s underneath someone’s crisis, you’ll help them much more than if you send them away with a to-do list.
Tip: Trust that your presence is truly enough. When you behave as if that person has what it takes to handle their issues well, it reminds them of how capable they really are.
Helpful phrases: “I can hear how hard you’re working”, “what have you tried so far?” Or “what do you think might be going on?”
Again, these tips don’t apply to each and every interaction you’ll have in your life. But it’s good to consider when and where you might make some changes. I’ve been using listening partnerships for nearly 3 years now and I’m still learning to get out of the way, but I’m so grateful for the daily practice and for how much listening has transformed my life.
Ready to practice listening well for yourself? Join me at The Parenting Well group!
Have breakthroughs! Get connected! Share your joys and challenges with people who understand! Fill your own cup! Find empathy for where you’re at! Experience the joy of being heard!
Click here for details about the group and to RSVP. Everyone who attends the group is eligible to receive the free booklet, “Listening Partnerships for Parents” as provided by Hand in Hand Parenting. Please RSVP to ensure your booklet.
If you're looking for individual support in parenting or other relationships, let me help! I offer individual counseling over the phone for anyone needing more wellness in their life.