By Trish Propson
Originally Published in the Times Villager, February 2017
“I wish I could tell my mom to just listen and not talk for me. She thinks she knows me but she doesn’t.”
“I wish my dad would stop yelling. I just need him to listen.”
“I wish my mom would tell me she understands me. If she would listen, she might be able to.”
“I wish my daughter would say what she means. Her mixed messages are so confusing. We always end up fighting.”
“I wish my son would tell me anything…. just anything.”
These entries from the rekenekt graffiti wall confirm how critical it is for parents and teens to listen to one another in order to strengthen relationships. Whether your teen is shut down and silent, or a parent is over talking, active listening is a helpful tool to increase success in verbal communication.
Less than 2% of people have any kind of formal listening training, but verbal and auditory communication is considered the most important factor in determining the success of individuals. Susan Young from Get in Front Communications cited results from a study of Harvard Business Review subscribers. This study concluded that people listen at a rate of 125-250 words per minute, but think at a rate of 1,000-3,000 words per minute. Fifty-five percent of our understanding is derived from facial expression, 38% comes from tone or how the words are spoken, and only 7% of understanding comes from the actual words. If you also include differences in personality, experience, education, language, and maturity levels, parents and teens have a lot of work to do in order to successfully communicate.
Active listening is much more than an often-mocked tool therapists use in role-playing. Active listening techniques, when used in everyday conversation, can do more for a relationship than almost anything else.
Active listening provides a strong foundation to build trust and understanding. The goal of active listening is an honest, respectful exchange of verbal communication, which aids in mutual understanding.
Students and adults in the workplace often listen to learn. This one-way type of communication is the audible consumption of verbal information intended to teach. Spoken content is controlled entirely by the speaker. Listening to one-way communication for learning is important, but may not impact our relationships.
Another one-way listening category is entertainment and enjoyment. This might include listening to music, poetry, audio books, or a movie. The proper interpretation of what we hear is not critical. We can interpret what is said in any way we like. The information is completely subjective to the hearer. There is no right or wrong way to listen in this area.
In relational listening, we are often tasked with gathering relevant information, which is basically auditory fact finding. In fact gathering, the listener needs to sift through verbal information to find the specific communication needed to solve a problem, carry out a task, or help someone else. The problem is most listeners may only hear 25-50% of what is being said. The danger comes from interpreting verbal information through our own filters. We may hear the words, but lack understanding of the meaning behind what is being said. We decide what is important to hear and discard the rest. This causes misunderstanding, which can undermine our relationships.
Listening for understanding may be the most important type of listening. This allows us to get past what is being said and tap into the meaning of what the speaker intends us to hear. It is important when listening for understanding to pay attention, ask questions, eliminate judgment, pause to process what is being said, and clarify what you heard with the speaker to assure you understand what the other person is trying to communicate.
How is listening or the lack of it affecting your relationships? How would your mom, dad, son, or daughter rate your listening skills on a scale of one to ten? Can you be courageous enough to ask them? Maybe their answer will be the first step in improving your ability to actively listen. Consider employing these five active listening techniques to strengthen your parent/teen and other relationships.
Action Steps: Take Five
- Give your undivided attention. We live in a distracted society. If listening to another person helps you understand them better, commit to fully devoting your attention to them. Set aside physical and environmental distractions. Make eye contact and focus on them and what they are saying.
- Respond positively. Let them know you are listening. Position yourself to face them. Smile and nod occasionally as they are talking. Listen carefully and pause to repeat something they said. This lets them know you are engaged with what they are saying.
- Ask good questions. If you are unsure about what is being said, ask for clarification. Avoid judgments and use “I” messages instead. Say things like, “I’m not sure I understand, can you explain it a different way.” Or, “I hear you saying …. Is that correct?”
- Let the person know how you feel about what they are saying to you. Calmly and respectfully share your feelings. Be honest without being hurtful and rude. Use “I” statements that cannot be argued such as, “I feel … about this subject” or “Hearing you say that makes me feel….” Treat the other person with respect and value as you respond to what they say.
- Summarize what has been said. The goal of any healthy communication is better understanding of the other person. When one person is done speaking, repeat back what they said to make sure you understood. Ask if they think you understand what they are saying. Give them a chance to clarify if something was missed. Try to summarize the conversation and determine the desired outcome of the interaction.
By slowing down and using active listening techniques, we can reduce conflict and misunderstanding, which hopefully will lead to more satisfying communication and build healthier relationships between parents and teens.
Rekenekt with Trish Propson is a monthly column devoted to raising awareness between parents and teens and helping people reconnect with hope across generations. Trish Propson is a local author, speaker, and family advocate committed to reconnecting families, one conversation at a time.