What is active listening?
It is a way of listening to someone in which you engage with them, and attune to them. You are able to give your full attention. Anyone who works in the helping profession will be able to tell you about active listening. I believe it is a skill that anyone can use, even if it means for more meaningful interactions with those around you. Active listening helps your conversation partner to feel heard and understood, which is such an essential quality to building healthy, positive and supportive relationships. Try it out and notice the differences you see.
Why is active listening important?
Growing up is not easy. While everyone’s growing pains are individual, what IS universal is that having support through these years can only make life easier for those experiencing the pains – not to mention those around them. Listening to understand shows your conversation partner that they matter. This is key to people developing positive relationships with others, developing their own self-esteem, and being in a “growth mindset,” where they are open to learning.
Providing support can be challenging!
As children and youth assert and discover their independence, find their voice, and navigate their own ways in the world, they often do not reach out to their parents. They are looking to their peers as influencers and support, rather than their parents and caregivers, as they used to. Given these considerations, parents’ potential concerns and feelings of rejection, social pressures, and the implications of how each of these factors interact, providing that support to your children can be challenging. Not to mention, you may worry about who is influencing your teens! Keep in mind that as the parent or primary caregiver, you are still, and always will be, the most important people in your kids’ lives. Their worlds are expanding, and this is a natural and healthy stage in their lives.
What is the difference between listening and active listening?
Think first about understanding what your conversation partner is saying. Hearing what someone else is saying involves listening to the sounds, while active listening is about demonstrating that you understand them. It means being present, and giving your undivided attention.
This is one of the main elements of active listening. It is often easier said than done, but I believe that the quickest way out of judgment is to be curious. What more can you find out about what your conversation partner is telling you? What else would help you to better understand their situation?
Another aspect of active listening involves reflecting the content of what your conversation partner is saying. It helps to clarify what the other person is saying, and demonstrates for them that you got it right. It also provides an opportunity to get it right if you did not quite understand what they were saying. To help you to reflect the content of what your conversation partner is saying, try paraphrasing. For example, here are some examples of reflecting content:
- Kid: When I got to school this morning, I was looking for all of my friends, but it turns out that Samantha is at a different school this year, Joey moved to another city, and Kayla isn’t in any of my classes!
Mom: Oh wow… so, you were looking for your crew, and none of them were around.
- Kid: I went to the park after school with my friend, and there was another kid there that we didn’t know, and he was bullying another kid on the playground.
Dad: Hmmm… so, you were at the playground after school, and you witnessed another kid getting bullied?
This can be trickier to do, because it can involve guessing. You might need to read a little deeper into their feelings than what is right on the surface.It is a little bit different from reflecting content, in that it helps the other person to feel that you understand them and validate their feelings. Keep in mind that validating does not mean that you have to agree or disagree with them. Rather, this is an opportunity to let them know that you understand the feelings that they are experiencing. It involves paying attention to the words that they say, and attaching an emotion to it. Following are some examples of reflecting feelings:
- Kid: I just wanted to punch him in the face!
Dad: Oh wow… you felt that angry, eh?
- Kid: None of my friends were around and I didn’t have anyone to play with at recess.
Mom: I bet you felt really lonely.
- Kid: I was trying to get all of my work done so that I didn’t have to bring any of it home, but the teacher only gave us like, 5 minutes to do the work in class!
Dad: It sounds like you’re feeling disappointed that you couldn’t get your work done in time, and you didn’t feel it was fair for the teacher to only give you 5 minutes to do the work.
Practice, and be kind to yourself!
Keep in mind that active listening takes practice. Try not to get discouraged if you do not get it the first few times around. Checking in with your kids to make sure that you have gotten it right will help you to improve with this skill. Providing and being open to hearing feedback is also a part of active listening.