I don’t remember ever being told that I’m a bad listener. That is until recently, by my fourteen year old! Turns out that parenting this new generation of kids that have multiple temptations distracting them, requires developing and cultivating what parenting gurus call Active Listening Skills. I must admit my brain these days is on overdrive with teenage parenting issues, and I’m always trying to stay ahead of the game. I recently attended an Active Listening workshop for parents of teenagers.
The first visual I got when I heard the phrase “Active Listening” was yours truly on a treadmill sweating it out with my fourteen year old jabbering away, standing next to me. I’m active and I am listening! “Funny, but, not quite what I was driving at.” the counselor commented. She was clearly not amused and that was my cue to engage.
Active listening is a four step process.
Receive: Receiving all the information.
Appreciate: Appreciating and acknowledging the emotions stemming from the issue being relayed to you.
Summarize: Summarizing and stating just the facts of what was shared by your child.
Ask: Handing the problem back to your child and asking how they were planning on handling it, with a big dose of empathy.
Sounds simple enough.
They are easy to understand concepts with a few simple examples, which were then reinforced when we were asked to apply them to hypothetical situations. I ploughed through all of these engaging and thought provoking activities earnestly. I hoped I would leave this workshop armed with newly acquired skills to not just tackle, but effectively take down, all issues that threaten to disengage our teenage daughters from the most important part of their anatomy – their brains!
That afternoon, I picked my girls up from school and as always, they started talking about their day. Three sentences into the first ‘incident’, I instinctively cut her short by telling her “I knew this was going to happen!” and proceeded to not only judge the situation, but also, lecture her on every possible outcome. It was as if I suffered from acute verbal diarrhea myself until it suddenly hit me.
I stopped halfway through my tirade to realize, I had not only hijacked the conversation, I had also robbed myself of an opportunity to hear her out completely and maybe help her process her thoughts just by verbalizing them to me. I was being a lousy listener.
Drawing from the exercises during the workshop, I took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry. That was very rude of me. Can we start over and this time around, how about you talk and I’ll just listen?” Their reaction to my apology was not what I expected. Both my daughters exchanged a look and then burst out laughing. A tad bit puzzled at their reaction, I couldn’t resist joining.
Take 2 played out very differently. They talked and I punctuated their sentences with occasional monosyllables. It took every ounce of discipline and energy in me to ‘zip-it’ even when I felt like screaming out, “WHAT? What were you thinking?” I pursed my lips and nodded, took deep breaths and even mentally promised myself a glass of wine later for being so good. It worked! I was actively listening. I not only got more information out of them, but also, successfully managed to hand their problems back to them, with loads of empathy.
While I can’t say how successful this will be in the long run, I must admit I felt like a better parent. Musing over it later that evening, I realized it’s a skill we could all use in every aspect of our lives. To be present at all times with an open mind, without judgment or distractions, when we commit to listening to someone. I want to be an active listener because I’m able to give my undivided attention to everyone I’m engaging with and I’m fully present. If I’m going to stop to listen to someone, then I will do just that, stop and listen!
Photo Courtesy: Anjana Kainikkara