Recently we wrote a blog post on tips for creating a strongly connected family.
We received such a fantastic response on this post, and I strongly believe in each of the 5 tips you will find in that post. They create a great framework for staying connected as a family now and in the future.
As I was writing that post, I realized there is one thing that is an underlying theme in each and every one of those tips. In fact, this one thing is so important that if you get it wrong it could derail every other action you take.
But, if you get it right — if you commit to and practice it — the benefits from all other actions will be tenfold.
It’s simple, but it’s hard… really hard…
It’s listening to your kids.
I love this quote from Virginia Satir:
“I believe the greatest gift I can receive from anyone is to be seen by them. Heard by them. To be understood and touched by them. And the greatest gift I can give is to see, hear and listen. To understand and to touch another person.”
Listening to your kids, or to anyone for that matter, is the greatest gift because it just doesn’t happen very often that we truly see someone for who they are: that we truly hear them, and understand them.
This gift has the potential to make every single one of the positive changes you are making in your family come alive.
It’s a gift that I strive to give to my children. But, it’s hard. Really hard.
It sounds so simple, and I didn’t realize how hard being a good listener really was until I was doing my training to become a coach about 5 years ago. Many of the fundamental coaching skills, as outlined by the International Coach Federation have to do with this concept. And many are equally applicable to being a good friend, a good parent, or a good human being:
- Being present.
- Actively listening.
- Establishing trust and intimacy.
- Powerful questioning.
- Direct communication.
While they’re all interrelated, I found the deep dive and exercises we did around active listening to be the most enlightening.
With work, I’ve accomplished a lot in this domain, but it is still a work in progress and I have to remind myself regularly about how important it is. Chances are that — unless you are an exceptionally gifted listener, or have devoted yourself to the art of listening and seeing the person in front of you — you are in the same boat.
If this is something that you want to work on, here are some of the exercises and tips that really helped me, and still do today:
Drop Your Agenda
Make a conscious choice to drop your agenda, and focus wholly on listening to your kids. We typically enter a conversation with a whole host of opinions, agendas, and judgements. Then, while we are in the conversation, we are often thinking ahead to what we are going to say next. Instead, try to practice leaving these things behind. Just be present and in the moment. Ask genuine in-the-moment questions out of curiosity. And, avoid giving advice unless you are specifically asked for it.
Get Comfortable with Silence
Don’t rush to jump in with the next question, or make a statement. You can still engage with your kids and exhibit active listening even in silence. You may be surprised what comes up.
Create a Mantra
Create a mantra for yourself as a reminder of the listener you want to be. I keep this one as a reminder for my parenting: “I am fascinated by and take pleasure in learning about my child, their essence, and their uniqueness.”
And, I reflect on this one before I enter any coaching conversation: “I can only hear deeply by listening first for greatness, then for goals, then for gaps.”
Find something that works for you, and find a place to put it to remind you of its importance.
Engage in Active Listening
In our coaching training class we undertook an exercise to demonstrate the value of active listening.
We paired up and one person was asked to speak for 2 minutes about any topic of relevance. The listener was to show good active listening skills: staying present, making eye contact, engaged body language, no interruptions, just encouraging facial expressions and gestures.
Then we switched and the other person spoke for 2 minutes. This time the listener was instructed to be distracted: look away, yawn, lean back, look at a book, interrupt the speaker.
A debrief occurred, but I’m sure you know what the result was. Those who spoke to a distracted listener felt hurt, shut-down, trust was eroded, and they ultimately couldn’t even keep going to the 2-minute timer. The most shocking part is — the participants knew it was just an exercise but they were still highly emotionally affected!
From a parenting perspective, can you see the problem with being a distracted listener?
Be an active listener when listening to your kids. That means listening as if what your kids have to say really matters; because it does!
Most Important: Practice the Art of Listening
Listening is a skill to develop, and like anything, with deliberate practice you will improve.
Here are a few ways to integrate listening practice into your life. You can do these at work or at home or anywhere in between.
- Try the exercise in the tip above on active listening. Listen to someone actively for 60 seconds, and then in a distracted manner for 60 seconds. What changes do you see in the speaker? How did it feel as the listener in each scenario?
- Once a day deliberately and fully focus on the person speaking to you. Be in the moment. Listen for all the person has to say with words and body language. Reflect with yourself and with the speaker on all that you have heard.
- For one conversation each day, do not use the words ‘I’ or ‘me’. It might be difficult, but it will help you keep the focus on the speaker.
- Try staying silent for 30 seconds. Enter a conversation or meeting with the intention of being a silent observer, and see what you see; notice what you hear. If you have the urge to speak, stay silent for an extra 30 seconds to see what else the speaker has to say if you leave space for it.
- Observe how you listen in different environments and to different people. Do you listen at work differently than at home? Do you listen differently to adults versus your kids?
- For advanced practice: In one conversation a day, focus on listening only with your heart. What changes about the experience, and about what you hear?
“The most basic of all human needs is to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
~ Ralph Nichols
Choose one of the practice exercises for listening to your kids above and make a commitment to try it during one conversation in the next 24 hours. Let us know in the comments which one you are going to try!