I don’t have any great skills when it comes to peacemaking. I certainly don’t have any answers for the current unrest in the U.S. Often I don’t have any productive information to share at all. What I can always do is listen, and often that’s exactly what’s called for. Listening is a valuable skill and one that must be cultivated.
Listening is how we learn
Listening is how we connect
Listening is how we affirm
Listening is how we show we care
Listening is how we stay humble
Listening is how we validate
Listening is how we build trust
Listening is how we show respect
The concept of active listening was the very first thing I learned in my graduate program, which makes sense since it’s the foundation for every counseling technique I learned in subsequent classes. Active listening requires that we give someone our full attention, our only agenda truly hearing the other and confirming that we understand. Active listening means listening until the other person is done speaking and then reflecting back what we’ve heard in a manner that’s both non-judgmental and without bias.
Active listening is valuable because it builds relationships. When listening actively, you give the speaker your full attention. There’s no waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can jump in, there’s no thinking about what you want to say next before the other person finishes.
Active listening doesn’t mean we agree, it simply means we acknowledge the other person is worthy of being heard. Active listening is the precursor to empathy and has the power to strengthen relationships and improve communication.
If we don’t truly listen to others, we’ve stripped ourselves of the opportunity to let another let their voice be heard. And how are we ever to understand if we don’t listen?
Active listening is a valuable skill to practice, but I’d like to suggest the addition of the word “humble." We can listen actively while still closing our mind to a discussion. We can listen actively, fully convinced we’re correct. Humble listening involves vulnerability. It means being open to perspectives that feel uncomfortable. It means being open to learning and growing. When active and humble listening are combined, empathy can flow naturally.
- When you meet someone whose lifestyle or life experience you don’t understand: try listening.
- When you’re in a conflict with someone, and you just can’t seem to come to a resolution: try listening.
- When you’re completely befuddled by your child’s behavior: try listening.
Ask questions, be curious, and listen for what’s being communicated.
Listening to Our Children
Parents often wonder how to maintain open communication with their children, particularly through adolescence. When we practice active listening even with the smallest children, we are setting the stage for open communication for years to come.
Let’s pretend for a moment that your 5th grader is struggling in math, and as a result she has begun to dread school. As you’re preparing to drop her off for the day she states, “I hate school. I don’t want to go. I’m sure I failed my math test.” The following communication styles would likely discourage communication and invalidate your daughter's experience.
Advising: “You know what you should do? You should talk to the teacher as soon as you get to school….”
Absolutes: “You always say you failed the test, and it always turns out fine.”
Shifting focus: “I remember when I was in school…”
Minimizing: “It’s one test, it doesn’t even matter in the grand scheme of life.”
Judging: “If you would just study more you might not be failing."
Using humble, active listening you might respond, "I bet it feels awful dreading your test results. What do you think would make you feel more confident in your math class?"
By avoiding the urge to offer suggestions, platitudes, or shame we’re showing our children we’re on their team. Even small children long to feel heard and understood, and by humbly listening we help each child find his voice.