All of us have a deep-seated desire to be understood and accepted as we are. Nothing conveys respect and appreciation more than effective listening. Do you know how to listen so that other people feel heard?
Practice these tips. They can work magic if you use them with children and adults alike.
1. Create low-key listening opportunities
Adults are accustomed to conversations when they are sitting face to face. Children don’t like such confrontational settings.
People connect most readily not when you are facing them, peppering them with questions, but when you are doing something together.
A great time to talk to teenagers is when you are driving to the mall. If you create a situation in which you and a child are both engaged in some task, the child will find it easier to talk to you.
If you doubt that this tip is great for grownups, think how much business people transact while playing golf!
2. Don’t multitask while you are listening
Give the other person your undivided attention. Avoid checking your email or your phone, and don’t interrupt the conversation to take a call.
If your telephone rules your life, find a time when you can turn it off. The other person will immediately sense that what he is saying is important to you.
3. Don’t interrupt when someone else is speaking
It can be hard to listen until the other person has finished, especially if we don’t like what we are hearing. Anxiety makes us want to jump in and take control of the conversation.
Most parents will become anxious when their child is reporting something disturbing. They will interrupt to correct or “educate” the child.
Resist the temptation to do this. Relieve your anxiety in some other way. When you interrupt, the speaker thinks you are more interested in what you plan to say than in what you are hearing.
4. Make brief and supportive comments now and then
Without interrupting the flow of words, you can say, “Wow! That must have been hard” or “did he really? That’s hard to believe” or “No kidding!”
Such remarks show that you are tuned in and paying attention.
5. Affirm the speaker’s perceptions
Adults and children who have trouble sharing feelings often believe that they are somehow different. They worry that other people might find them weird, stupid, or unacceptable.
Still, everyone enters this world with the same emotional kit. Whatever feelings a situation has provoked in one person are sure to be familiar to anyone else who hears about it.
Seize opportunities to let others know that their feelings are normal and understandable. In this way you can promote trust and acceptance. You can also help kids getcomfortable issuing news bulletins about their state of mind.
6. Don’t interject unsolicited advice
Among grownups, unasked-for suggestions send the message that you don’t think the other person is capable of handling the situation in question.
For children, a different set of considerations is involved. Childhood means learning how to behave and how to weigh the consequences of different courses of action.
If you routinely impose your opinion, it preempts your child’s ideas. Your child loses the opportunity to test his own judgment. Let him learn by trial and error.
Kids need to fail safely. Remember, we all learn not from our successes but from our mistakes. No parents have ever managed to save their offspring from making mistakes!
If you let your child botch things up now and again, he will learn that it’s okay to be wrong sometimes. Acceptance of our own fallibility keeps us aware that we are each of us fundamentally like everyone else.
When I suggest that you let your child make mistakes, I am speaking about age-appropriate challenges, not about situations that present a serious risk to life and limb.
7. Use open-ended questions
Open-ended questions indicate that you are interested in learning more. Yes-or-no questions limit the answers you seem to want. Questions to which you already know the answer are not worth asking. They elicit no information at all.
Let the speaker’s words suggest avenues you can pursue. Check in with the speaker from time to time to be sure you are getting the drift. You can use questions to encourage a child to think things through.
8. Label the emotions you see
Most communication is interactive. We decide what to say next and how on the basis of how we think other people are responding to our words. The message is partly verbal but also involves tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and body language.
Children become better communicators when they are made aware of how they seem to others. Your prompts can help your child notice her feelings so that she can deal with them.
You might say: “You look really angry. Do you want to talk about it?” “Did something bad happen today? You look so sad!”
These are just a few examples. They work equally well with adult friends, who may be unsure what you are willing to hear from them.
9. Ask about feelings
The essence of communication is information about how we and other people are feeling. It is really more important in interpersonal relationships to acknowledge feelings than it is to decide who is right or wrong or which version of a situation is correct.
You want the other person to be comfortable talking about his take on any situation, positive or negative. Ask, “What’s going on with you today? How are you feeling?”
10. Help children learn empathy; show adults that you are empathic
When interpersonal problems are the focus of discussion, your responses can both promote and reflect empathy.
You can invite a child to imagine how the other person felt in a given situation. If this exercise proves tough, ask the child to remember a time when she was in a similar spot. How did it feel?
This approach is especially valuable when there is conflict between people. You can dazzle other adults by showing that you know how it feels to stand in their shoes.
Any child can, with practice, grasp how different people might react in a particular situation. Empathy helps all of us find win-win solutions to shared problems.