I sat across the table as our family had lunch. I was listening, I thought, until my son’s 15 year old friend said, “You’re just not listening to me.” I stopped my advice and shared a quick glance with my wife as if to say, “We don’t need to say anything.” Now, we listened. We listened as this young person told us how her dad was not encouraging her, how he was different when no one was around, how he did not understand, etc. We listened until she stopped. I sat quiet with many seemingly obvious things to say like, “Are you sure you are being fair?” and “Do you think you contribute?”
I am glad I kept quiet. Out of the quiet she said, “He just makes me feel like it is all my fault.” Do you see it? My words, no matter how applicable, would have only fueled the negative fire of her feelings about herself. I would have been another adult, another man, saying “Could this be your fault?” Our long term goal is to open her eyes to a bigger picture, to show her how much he loves her even if it turns out that he has a parenting flaw or two.
I was reminded how important it is to just listen. Here are a few ideas that I try to remember as I lead, as I love, and as I have the opportunity to listen and help those around me:
- Listen beyond the silence. Really listen until they seem done and, then, sit just one more minute and see what the silence will bring out. Rarely does the depth of the story come out with the emotional dump.
- Let them get it out to sort it out. Not all “seeming” problems are really big problems. Sometimes people just need to vent, to get it out to sort it out. Many times people do not need your input but simply your ear and your heart.
- Remember who you are. If they wanted a psychologist they would have looked on up. If they wanted a negotiator, they would have found one. Be the friend, the mentor, the spouse, the whatever you are to them.
- Know that you do not know. Always remember that there are at least 12 sides to every story before you validate, react, advise, or get involved. The bigger the problem the more you do not know.
- Listen like a firefighter not an arsonist. Emotional fires usually need a bit of water and not more fuel.
Today we are focusing on listening. Listening, by definition, uses few words. Even then, those words need to be formed in caring questions. What happens when it is time to speak? I will share few ideas on that next time.
What listening ideas do you have? How can you listen better? Have you ever blown it when you should have just listened?