Active Listening: Listening vs Waiting to Talk
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. Most people listen with the intent to reply. – Stephen R. Covey
I am an adult woman. I am married, I raised two children, and I have a granddaughter. However, there are times when I still need my mom. My mother is turning 95 this year and she is my biggest supporter. I can call her on my worst day and just by hearing my voice she knows something is wrong. At the end of a conversation, her understanding and wisdom makes me feel as though I can conquer the world. Although my mom cannot hear very well anymore, somehow she has incredible listening skills. Unfortunately, I did not inherit that ability. I, like most people, wait for my turn to speak instead truly listening to what someone else is saying. But I always consider myself a work in progress, so I am practicing my active listening skills!
Active listening is harder than it sounds, especially when we have so many distractions we face on a daily basis. For instance, text messages, emails, phone calls, and TV can all be distractions. The demands on parents and kids are numerous, and it can be hard to unplug and have a full conversation—let alone fully listen to what someone is saying.
Parents are expected to be superheroes: we have to get the kids to school on time, fix healthy meals, and make time for homework as well as extracurricular activities. Whether parents work outside the home, remotely, or are stay-at-home parents, the list of demands seem endless. And in the middle of it all, we are expected to effectively communicate and be good listeners.
When my kids were younger, we did not have all the distractions that today’s families have, but communication was still challenging. There were times I felt like they never listened to me, especially during their teenage years. Now that my kids are adults, I offer my own advice and hope they learn from my mistakes. Sometimes they heed my advice, but other times? Not so much.
We tell kids they need to be better listeners, but as parents and educators we need to teach them how to listen. Relationship Management is one of the five core topics of Social Emotional Learning Enhancement Application (SELENA), and it teaches active listening. When SELENA is part of a curriculum, active listening can be taught to students through a variety of fun and engaging methods.
Listening is a skill that can and should be taught. Active listening demonstrates respect, increases knowledge, and builds connection and trust. Whether we are students, parents, teachers, employees, or employers, it is a skill that we can all benefit from.
Imagine if today’s kids were able to learn how to tune out the distractions around them. Tuning out the distractions will enable them to be present and active listeners. If my children were taught how to do this, they might have actually listened to me more! Teaching how to actively listen could potentially benefit future generations, improve communication, and help our kids as they enter into adulthood.
My mother is one of the people who has learned how to actively listen, and whether I call her to discuss my successes or my failures, I know she is the one person who will truly hear and understand me. Recently, she helped me work through one of the worst days of my life. Last year — for the first time in my life — I was terminated from my job. They were cutting back because of the pandemic. I was devastated, and I did what I always do when I need advice: I called my mom.
And as any mom would do, she let me know how lucky they were to have me. She took the sting out of losing my job! She gave me words of encouragement and she listened. We need to learn from people like my mom and teach our kids how to not only convey their feelings, but to listen when others are speaking; tune out the distractions, and tune in when others communicate. Hearing someone speak is not enough — we need to learn to listen!
If you want to learn more about active listening, this NYT article provides additional information.