Actively Listening or Being Heard; Is there a Difference?
Over the years I’ve asked moms this question, “How do you get your child to listen to you?”
Some say, “I give consequences till he listens,” others say, “I show her I am willing to leave if she doesn’t listen.”
Those tactics can work, but most of the time a parent has to add an emotional reaction to the request in order for it to really work.
Mainly, I think parents want an answer to this question, “How many times do you have to say, ‘Please stop it,’ before you feel forced to yell to get them to listen?”
There are many ways to increase listening. However, unless a parent is clear about the intent behind the action, no tip will work for very long.
In order to effectively increase listening, you first need to be clear about what your true goal is. Is your goal to be heard, or is it to be listened to? There’s a difference.
When you want to be “heard,” your primary focus centers on producing words to express your feelings so “you feel heard.”
Most of the time you’re not really aware, and sometimes don’t care, how the other person is impacted by what you’re saying. In other words, when you want to be “heard,” you’re focused on you.
When your goal is to get someone to “listen” to you, you unconsciously look for clues to see if your message is getting through. You’re also more willing to adjust your words so there’s less of an emotional impact on the other person. In other words, your focus is on the other person.
With that in mind, here are four tips to increase listening. This works equally well with both kids and adults.
1. Allow Time to Switch Focus
When a person is deeply focused and concentrating on what they’re doing, whether it’s playing, reading, crying, fixing the car, doing homework, or making dinner, they’re paying attention to the task at hand and aren’t able to immediately listen to you.
TRY to observe what the other person is doing before speaking. Adults and children need a moment or two to switch from one side of the brain to the other so they can give you their undivided attention. Waiting a moment before speaking also teaches your child how you’d like them to interrupt you, too.
What if it’s an emergency?
When your habit is to wait before speaking, or your habit is to respectfully ask, “Is now a good time?” then if you ever really need their full attention during an emergency, the alarming and jarring sound of your voice causes them to listen immediately since it’s so different than the norm.
2. Don’t Talk Over an Emotional Person
Talking over someone who is emotional, or crying child, is not only fruitless, it also sends the silent message, “What I’m saying is more important than your feelings.”
TRY waiting silently until the person has composed themselves, or the crying slows just a bit before you speak. Waiting for a moment before speaking is not only respectful, it increases a person’s ability to listen.
3. Talk Slowly, and Use Pauses
When words/requests are delivered with rapid intensity all most everyone, adults and children alike, will unconsciously retreat behind the “I’m not listening barrier” to protect themselves from the intense emotional onslaught.
TRY to be mindful not to emotionally overload the other person/child. Make sure you give them a moment or two to digest what you’ve just said before you move on to the next point. This decreases the possibility that lack of listening will turn into yelling.
4. Watch and Adjust Body Language
Paying attention to another person’s body language is a good way to see if what you’re saying is getting through to them.
Are they looking anywhere but at you? Have they crossed their arms? These are all unconscious signals that they don’t want to listen. If you see those signals, don’t blame them or make them self-conscious by calling their attention to what their body is doing. Instead, adjust what you are doing.
TRY to make eye contact. If the person seems open to it, reach out and touch them lightly on the shoulder to create a connection. Get down to their eye level, or look in their eyes, but don’t breach their safe space. Finally, modulate your voice so your words are warm and accepting vs. cold and accusing.
When you’re mindful of how your words impact someone else it places you in partnership with them and increases the possibility of listening, whether you’re speaking to an adult or a child.