“Listening is so much like loving it’s hard to tell the difference.”
I confess. I hung this quote on my wall out of spite. I painted a lovely little plaque and hung it on my wall as a private jab against my own distracted, verbose non-listeners. I may have quietly shared it on Facebook that day too. Yup. No one wants to be unheard. No one wants to be unloved. It’s hard to tell the difference.
“Lend me your ear…”
Most of us were born with our own working pair but still seem to need regular access to each others’. Children need it. Wives need it. Husbands need it. It’s an exquisite gift we can give each other, affordable on any budget, entirely replenishable, and really the only way of knowing each other’s hearts and minds. So…
… how do you say “I love you” with your ears?
1. Practice “Active Listening:” “Hearing” just happens. Active listening is a deliberate choice to try to understand someone. It takes effort, concentration and participation. Active listeners give both verbal and non-verbal cues to show their interest and regularly paraphrase back what they heard to be sure they understood. It makes the speaker feel like an important celebrity being interviewed for the cover story of Time Magazine and real, successful communication is the result. DO listening. Learn more at: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/active-listening.html
2. “Unplug” your ears: Turn off the TV. Turn off the computer. Put down the smart phone. Turn off the radio (okay, at least turn it down). Put down the book aaaaaaand close it (ouch). This can be a family affair. In a worldwide conference, LDS church leader Rosemary Wixom suggested, “Why not choose a time each day to disconnect from technology and reconnect with each other? Simply turn everything off. When you do this, your home may seem quiet at first; you may even feel at a loss as to what to do or say. Then, as you give full attention to your children, a conversation will begin, and you can enjoy listening to each other.” Unplug.
3. Resist the urge to give advice, form opinions early on, or fix the problem: Years ago, from a speech by a family therapist, I learned the five steps of helping children solve problems. They were, first: listen. Second: listen. Third: listen. Fourth: yup, keep listening. Let them talk it out, to the very bottom, until they are empty and have nothing left to say. This may take a while, and may get repetitive. BUT, when they finally stop, almost every time, they will have solved their own problem and all you have to do is Step Five: express your love and confidence in them. Done. Most of the time, it is just that easy. And if they do need a little extra guidance, with all the listening you just did, you’ll know exactly what to say. Try it.
4. When they come to you, be there: This doesn’t mean the world must stop every time someone yells “MOM!” (My 11-year-old accused me of not listening to her while writing just now. It was deliberate, she knew what I was writing about.) But do make sure “just a minute” hasn’t become a catch phrase. They won’t suddenly be ready to talk just because we’re ready to listen. We must be ready to listen when they are ready to talk. Yes, this is often inconvenient. But, each day at 3:30pm I drop everything, sit down on the couch, and wait. I’ve learned. In a few seconds a microburst of kids, backpacks, and stories about the day will explode through my door IF I’m ready to listen. If not, this happy storm dissipates and all my later prodding gets from them is, “It was fine” or “Oh, nothing.” Discern where “there” is and be there.
5. Avoid becoming too emotionally reactive: When my husband describes an especially bad day at work, I get upset! How dare someone treat him that way?! Let’s key their car! Let’s burn down their house! Let’s… suddenly it’s me venting and him calming me down. That’s not fair. He does need to know I stand by him, but he also needs to clear his own head. I can call a friend later, if I still need to clear mine. This applies to children being bullied, as well. They desperately need your love and support, and disapproval of how they were treated, but they don’t need your own pain and fury. Then there are those (rare?) occasions when YOU are the reason they’re upset! Gah! Right or wrong (of course wrong…) let them get it out. Use this time to listen, think, pray, and CHOOSE how best to respond, rather than letting an emotional, knee-jerk reaction choose for you.
6. Listen deep: Not all words can be taken at face value. They may actually mean something entirely different, especially if they are emotionally charged. For example, “She’s not really THAT good of an artist,” may actually mean, “Will you please say something nice about me too?” Think what a different response those two sentences would generate. More often than not, even (or especially) in an argument, the underlying sentiment is, “reassure me that I matter to you.” Listen deep.
There’s a reason we have two ears and only one mouth…
…so we would listen twice as much as we speak.”
With nothing more than a little effort, we all have what it takes to close our lips and let our ears do the talking.
And please check out the post at Cranial Hiccups today. There will be a new post about family on both of our blogs each day of the Celebration.