One of the most common complaints that parents make to me is that their children won’t listen to them. Which is ironic… why ironic? Because in every instance there is always a case of do as I say and not as I do… we want them to listen to us but we don’t show them how to do that..
Basically we are lousy listeners ourselves!
Listening takes effort. It’s not as simple as shutting up and sitting there focused on what’s being said. If you’ve ever sat through a speech you’ll know I speak the truth. Unless that speech is absolutely riveting which means we have totally bought into what’s being said, then we find our minds wandering off… to the list of things to do today… to our own worries… to our own agenda for this conversation… to our own defensive response… to devise our own brilliant solution to your problem!
Just think about times when you have felt heard, which is generally by someone who has shared your experience… they listen attentively with their whole body, they will repeat back to you what you’ve said by rephrasing it into their own words, they make minimal sounds that show they are still with you and they sometimes match your expression and even match your tone in your excitement or sadness or any other feeling you’re expressing.
If you want your kids, partner, friends to listen to you, then you need to actively show them how to do that for you by doing that for you. In each relationship, for it to work effectively, there needs to be an equal exchange of effort. One of the best things you can do to improve your relationship is to learn and practice actively how to listen.
When I learnt how to listen… back when I was studying counselling… I had to learn how to listen. So I practised on everyone in my family, at work, at coffee with friends and in accidental conversations waiting in queues… everywhere I could. I didn’t tell anyone what I practicing, I just did it and oh my goodness did it change things. I just couldn’t believe how much it changed everything!
My family is a blended family, I have a son from a previous relationship and a husband who came on the scene when my boy was 4years old. Blended families are always a challenge and in our case things were escalated when both hubby and son decided they’d reject each other and compete for my attention… both wanted to be right and both wanted me on their side. Well… when I stopped stepping into the foray and instead just listened to them (separately of course, I’m not crazy), the whole dynamic changed. I didn’t object, defend, insert logic, plead the other point of view, tell them to get over it, tell them to shut up or anything… I listened.. actively… fed back what they said, reflected the feelings they were displaying and let them know I heard them with my body language and facial expression which matched theirs.
I cannot stress how much this changed the dynamic between them, even though they weren’t actually talking to each other, just to me… but the fall out of being listened to was that their emotional temperatures were lowered, they felt that I understood (and I did), and then they were much more willing to reflect on how the other felt. They started getting on better, and eventually they stopped fighting all together. It seems amazing to me now that they ever were at each other throats, that I contemplated whether I would have to break up my family because I couldn’t see a resolution between these two.
In fact today, my son (now 23), was telling me how much he enjoyed spending all of Sunday together with my husband which would have been unheard of just 15+ years ago.
WARNING! There are side effects to listening instead of fixing, defending or jumping into the fight! There is less stress, zero anxiety and your health improves 🙂
Listening… it’s the one thing that will change your relationships for good. Check out how to do this on my Parenting Help page.