Tuesday, 26 November 2013

It's not always about talking - we need to listen too!

In a recent post I expressed my frustration with the increasing trend towards communicating with each other via an array of technology tools - and used the mobile phone as an example of how many parents miss perfect opportunities to communicate with their kids because they are too busy texting or tweeting someone else!

I claimed that if our reliance on these tools continues, we risk losing (or at least debasing) the most basic method of communicating - talking to each other. Messages on a screen are one thing - but facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures, body language are all additional ways of communicating how we feel and what we want to say. Pretty hard to accurately interpret a clear message from words on a screen.

But talking is only one part of true communication - listening is a skill as well, and one many parents (and teachers) need to practice a little better. When it seems we can't get our message through, particularly when dealing with teens, my experience in working with parents tells me that discussion quickly turns into nagging....and no-one wins.

Dr Thomas Gordon (http://www.gordontraining.com), a pioneer in teaching effective communication models for teachers, parents, young people and business leaders, claims that  active listening is a skill critical to effective communication - and effective parenting, teaching and leading.

Sometimes it's hard for parents to stop talking, but if we want to consolidate what has hopefully been strong communication ties within the family, we need to utilise this skill throughout the difficult teen years. 

In simple terms, active listening is allowing the other person to express themselves without interruption. As parents, we need to simply let our kids talk and hold the floor - even if it means we need to take mental notes of points we want to clarify or questions we want to ask. We don't interrupt!

By allowing your teen to unload, or even challenge a decision you might have made, you are giving yourself the golden opportunity to listen to it all, assess the whole picture and then possibly explore the problem (or find a solution) together. Often parents join the dots before they really hear the whole message. Half-listening is a dangerous practice, and can often lead to that conversation I'm sure we have all had which concludes with "I told you that...but you never listen!"

So, next time you are in the middle of a conversation with your son or daughter (or partner for that matter!) put your emotions or your conclusions to one side and hear them out...completely. When they have finished, clarify with a comment like, "From what you've said, am I right in thinking....?"or "It seems like you are angry/upset/disappointed about.... Am I right?"

You might like to conclude the discussion with a comment like "Well, where do we go from here?" or "Have you thought about how you are going to handle....?" 

How's your active listening skill? Practice makes perfect...and everybody wins!

 photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

About Author:

Angie Wilcock is a highly regarded expert and speaker on transitions in education. She works with teachers, parents and students across Australia.

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