The following post is from Jennifer, a lifelong educator:
I’ll never forget the conversation. Our five-year-old was trying to tell me something important. I was getting dinner ready and responded with an occasional, “Oh, really?” and “That’s interesting.”
“Mommy, listen to me!” he implored.
“I am listening!”
“No, Mommy! Listen to me with your eyes!”
I immediately got his point. He knew I was distracted and only half-attending. I put my spoon down and gave him my full attention.
That episode reminded me of the art of active listening. While it’s not possible to drop everything each time you have a conversation with your spouse or children, there are certain times when you can either enhance or damage your relationships by the way you listen.
Features of Active Listening
1. As mentioned above, maintain eye contact. Looking deeply into the other person’s eyes will help you understand more fully what they are saying.
2. Pay attention to body language and tone of voice, not just the spoken words.
3. Instead of planning your response while the speaker is talking, focus on their main points. When they are done, say, “Let me see if I heard what you just said,” then rephrase their thoughts. It will give them a chance to clarify or elaborate.
4. Avoid giving examples from your own life too early in the conversation. If you immediately say, “When that happened to me…,” the focus will shift from the speaker to yourself. You may miss the heart of what they are trying to communicate if you share a personal story before the main point has been fully explored.
5. Ask questions that keep the conversation going and that demonstrate empathy. “How did that make you feel?” “What did you think when she said that?” “What were you hoping would happen next?”
6. Don’t allow yourself to interrupt.
7. Use silence to communicate interest. After you ask a question, give the other person time to think. If you jump in and keep talking, they may decide you don’t really care about their answer.
8. Resist the urge to “fix” until you are asked to do so. Wives often complain that their husbands don’t listen without trying to fix things. We need to extend that same grace of listening to our spouses and children – even with our friends!
9. Keep your defenses down if the topic turns out to be a complaint about you. It’s easy to get defensive when accused, but putting ourselves into the other person’s shoes and really listening to their perspective builds trust.
10. Start now, even if your kids are older. You’ll have a stronger bond with your teens when you invest the time to really listen. You may not always like what you hear, but you’ll know a lot more about their lives!
Active listening will help you to better understand those you love and will strengthen your relationships. It’s an art worth practicing!
When do you find it easiest to listen to your spouse and kids? When is it the hardest?
|Jennifer is passionate about children and education. She homeschooled her two sons for five years, established and directed a Christian school in Maryland for 20 years, and currently teaches in a public school in a Chicago suburb. She loves investing in relationships and delights in every moment that she spends with her family.|