Authentic listening is one of the most essential communication skills and one of the hardest to master. Often, we listen with an ear to refute or rebut what the speaker says. This is especially common when we listen to our kids. We seek ways to convince them of the rightness of our own position, and/or the unreasonableness of theirs. We focus on getting our point across instead of listening to their point of view.
Imagine what might happen if we chose to turn off the Gotcha! mentality and decided to listen deeply, to attend to each point the child is making. Without interrupting them. Without predetermining our response. Without telegraphing judgment, doubt or other negative response in either word or body language.
Imagine asking for clarity until we truly “get” their point and can respectfully repeat their points precisely. How many of us have ever delivered that level of deep listening? Whaaat? You might be thinking, “I’m not letting the kiddos run the show.. I’m not giving in to their whining, etc.” That is not what we propose.
Here’s the pivotal distinction: listening for authentic understanding does not promise agreement; it promises a respectful, open heart and mind. Once we genuinely hear each of the speaker’s points, we can see both the position and their intended goal.
From this point, we can seek to build agreement, compromise of even disagreement. People will be more inclined to accept your response if they feel fully heard. Of course, there is no guarantee they’ll be happy but they will have had an experience rooted in respect. That interaction builds connection, teaches them good communication skills and affirms the Family Value of respect. Have you ever been the recipient of this kind of listening? Recall how affirming that felt. Now imagine choosing to be that kind of listener. Imagine the potential impact on your family…
From the vantage point of Intentional Parenting, we strive to engage in ways that build attachment, embody our Family Values, and successfully communicate our points of view. Stack the odds for a successful conversation by following these steps to mastering Deep Listening.
Consider timing: Deep Listening requires that both listener and speaker be fully engaged. Choose the time for your conversations; the immediate moment might not be your best option. For example, the middle of a play-off game, during one’s favorite TV show, etc, probably won’t attract the most attentive or cooperative response.
Rephrase their points in your own words Then ask for affirmation that you have stated their point of view correctly. Repeat this sequence until they confirm that you’ve “gotten” their position.
State your response with empathy and respect. Monitor your tone and body language. Resist the temptation to be dismissive, irritated or, patronizing; these will undermine the entire process. Attitude will directly affect your effort to communicate respectfully.
Be aware of the distinction between what you intend to say, what you actually say and what the listener thinks you said. An entire universe of misunderstanding can take place in those spaces. Note the graphic on the left for some examples of how conversations can be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
Both parties have interior conversations with themselves about what is spoken, what was intended and what they inferred was being said. Often the “history” between the two colors the interaction more than what is actually said. Both parent and child need to periodically update their inner transcript to reflect and acknowledge changes in behavior. In the absence of this updating, any efforts to change go unnoticed and former, less healthy patterns will most likely reestablish themselves.
Track your progress. Observe how this level of authentic listening impacts your family dynamics. Acknowledge the small improvements. Every step is valuable. Notice the changes in your feelings, family morale and the effectiveness of your conversations. How has this positive focus spilled over into other areas of family dynamics?
Review any less-than-successful interactions to identify the points at which your Intention fell apart or fell short of your goal. Make those leverage points your focus as you recommit to improving family communication.
It takes courage to be a beginner. None of us like to look or feel inadequate. But it is worth the struggle! Acknowledge that it is not easy to master new skills. It will take many times at bat before consistent improve occurs. Allow yourself–and the rest of the family–time and practice to accomplish this goal. Remain steadfast in the face of any failures and turn those shortfalls into stepping stones to success.
When will you take on this mindful communication practice?