Good parenting needs effective listening strategies. In fact, effective listening is a speedy way to improve your effectiveness in all areas of your life.
If there was one area that parent after parent feels they could do better at, if coaches were limited to advising just one thing about their services, just one area that clients can work at and to improve, it would be listening. Becoming a better listener can also make you a better parent.
It’s not that, as a parent, you don’t listen. Of course you do. One of the problems is that children want you to listen straight away when it counts, when it’s relevant. This is ideal of course and if you don’t, the moment can pass. The problem is that you have phone calls to make, shopping to do, meetings to attend, and children’s activities and play dates to organise!
And so there are times that you don’t listen well.
You are human and not alone. What this means is that you don’t listen in a way that will improve your relationships, results, family life, effectiveness and yourself. Quite often you may listen to get by in survival mode. It’s no surprise as you are bombarded by constant sounds, needs and interruptions all day, every day.
The main thing to remember is that you don’t need to beat yourself up about it. Read on, to pick up some tips about becoming a better listener for your children, as well as gaining a deeper understanding of listening as well.
So, you are bombarded with sounds constantly. Many of these sounds are self-inflicted. You may sleep with your phone next to your bed (many people do), awaken to a clock radio, have TVs on as background noise, air-conditioning and the noise of the fish tank. You listen to the news as you drive, and set your phones to notify you whenever someone sends you a message.
On the other side, with so many teenagers and children even younger having their own mobile phones and other devices, messages are constantly beeping for them as well. Receiving a message every 30 seconds throughout the day is not an exaggeration. People expect instant answers, too! Ever felt compelled to reply to messages that are not important or urgent instead of listening to your child?
Amidst all this disharmony, you have developed coping strategies, skills as well as some survival methods such as selective listening. However, the problems arise if you fail to ‘turn off’ selective listening when it really matters to your child.
You have a choice in how deeply you listen. Below is a very useful and straightforward overview of one model that explains the different levels of listening. It is inspired by the authors of Co-Active Coaching.
Recall a time spent inside an airport terminal, waiting for a train or in a long supermarket queue. How do you listen to the repeated message on the speaker system that tells you that baggage left unattended will be confiscated and cars left unattended will be towed away?
Most likely, you barely even hear it. You may have zoned out because you are waiting to find out which gate or platform you need to move towards or you may be searching for a toilet or a snack counter.
This type of listening is about you. You may be multi-tasking, sending messages or reading at the same time. You hear the message on the loudspeaker but it doesn’t gain much of your attention. Nor should it!
You have many other things that require a deeper focus. It’s the same in a meeting when someone is talking for too long. Surface listening is about you,your needs and your thoughts.
You may run into trouble when you listen to your children in this manner. You hear but you don’t grasp the full meaning. Nuance is lost. And what is it like to be on the receiving end of this? How do you feel when someone listens to you at this level? Unfortunately, the people closest to you are likely to encounter you in this level at some stage of the day.
Spiked attention listening
Think about that same loudspeaker in the airport. What if you hear your name called or you hear your flight has a gate change? We listen at a surface level until something provokes our interest.
When listening to your children at this level, you hear things from their perspective; it’s more about them than you. We hear more than we do at level one, but we still don’t grasp all meaning.
Back to the airport loudspeaker; how do you listen to announcements about your flight when you are late and the voice has a strong accent or the noise is fuzzy? You anticipate, focus and listen hard. You clear your mind of distracting thoughts, almost like waking up a little, and you listen attentively.
When you listen in this way to others, you strive to understand and get what you need. You may also pay attention to subtle cues. While this is a deep listening, it’s often still self-focused. We listen for what it means to us. “How does what you’re saying reflect on me?” “How does it impact me?” “How does it prove what I already believe to be true?”
You may drift into the different stages of listening so just be aware of how you are listening and the impact it has on your child.
At this level, we employ senses beyond auditory. You listen for nuance, for meaning, for discovery. You have no agenda, nothing to prove. You are open to learning and understanding. You notice what’s not said. You detect emotion. At this level, you call on your intuition and take cues from non-verbal sounds and movement.
For example, you sense the energy in the room, the emotions the other person is feeling and how important the issue is to your child. You are aware of what is going on around you, the way a noise can change the mood or the way an interruption can change the mood to laughter, annoyance or even upset.
Most of us are not practiced at this type of listening. At best, we operate at this level a few times a day. In some cultures this is more natural than others. As you know, messages are not just given verbally; body language plays a great part in the giving and receiving of a message.
So, become attuned to unspoken messages. Listening more deeply like this does take more energy if you are not used to doing; but then it becomes more natural, internalised.
You don’t have to listen deeply all the time of course; in fact, you can’t! The idea is to listen deeply when in conversation with others who would benefit from your focused attention — with your colleagues, friends, partner and, of course, your child.
If you want to understand others more fully, then try to practise deeper listening. With the holiday season approaching and more time with your children, it will be well worth the effort.
Effective Listening Experiences:
Co-Active Coaching, 2nd Edition: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life. Laura Whitworth, Karen Kimsey-House, Henry Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl