It’s ‘a no-brainer’ they say: Good communication is essential to having a good relationship. The art of listening is the quiet and receptive aspect of good communication and the subject for today. Ideally when listening, we are required to put our hearts, not just our ears and minds, to the task. Suspending judgments, inner-talk and automatic responses takes a conscious effort. If we can, we open ourselves to the needs, stories and uniqueness of others, particularly children who are learning to describe and make sense of their world. We give a human gift. Sadly, some six-year-olds already know that ‘just a minute!’ means ‘go away’, after an approach to tell or show a parent something, or ask a burning question.
During our day-to-day life with children, partners, friends and workmates, we seek clarity and connection when planning and organising our activities, expressing our opinions, feelings, and ideas. Yet, misunderstandings, muddles and mishaps arise, and we may not always recognise how our restless minds and readiness to talk can interfere with another person’s ability to have a voice and be truly heard. Many times there is no need as a listener to express an opinion, being a sympathetic human is enough.
Here are just some of the things we do instead of approachably, openly listening:
• We interrupt.
• We interpret.
• We ask questions.
• We ignore or are easily distracted.
• We judge the rightness or wrongness of the speaker’s words.
• We play ‘ping-pong’ and remark, ‘Yeah, same thing happened to me.’
Active listening means tuning in, and is often more important than giving advice. In fact, kids have surprising commonsense resolutions to their own dilemmas and issues, if we could only let them talk through to a solution. Listening does take time and patience, yet the encouragement and positive attention this provides has an enormous impact on child development, precisely because children are seen and heard.
With loved ones, it is crucial that we listen, and that we listen without judging. This says, ‘I love and accept you as you are, no matter what’. However, if we fear that when we express our feelings or ideas others will say we are ‘wrong’, we will share nothing.
One strategy for good communication is to repeat what you think another person has just said to check that you understood them, and to reassure them that you are onboard, trying to ‘get’ them. Listening indicates respect. Listening makes others feel important, and it can soothe an irritated person if, after an upset when they have had their say, you respond with, ‘Is there anything else I should know about?’ or ‘What else’?
An irritated person will be happily surprised that you are not trying to shut them up.
Aggression may evaporate if they believe you care. Caring means setting aside our own experiences and saying, ‘You tell me your story’.
You can feel pretty special when someone gives you their total attention. If you want to affect people positively, try listening with 100 per cent of your attention. You will become a special person for them.