Guest blogger Elisabeth Stitt
Joyful Parenting Coaching
Active listening, a difficult skill to learn, gives the talker an opportunity to be heard without judgment. The listener gets not just the facts, but also the speaker’s feelings.
Here’s how to do it
- Listen: Don’t comment, disagree or evaluate
- Use your body: Eye contact, head nods, brief comments like “yes” or “uh-huh”.”
- Prompt information: Tell me more. What else?
- Repeat back: Recap the gist said and guess at emotions
Practice first with topics that are not controversial. For example, you might ask your partner about a happy childhood memory or a person he admires. Your main purpose is to open up space in the relationship. By listening to your partner’s feelings and motivation first you activate your own empathy and secondly you gather a lot of information about what is important to your partner. This provides useful data when you are looking for solutions that will work for both of you. It feels good to be heard. Chances are, you felt listened to early in your relationship.
Once you have mastered active listening with noncontroversial topics, try a more touchy topic like “What is a lesson you would really like our kids to learn?” This can be scary. Your partner might say something that really throws you for a loop like “I’d really like the kids to learn to hang glide.” Your comfort levels might go into high alert. What?! What kind of a parent lets his kids go up into the sky attached to a giant kite?! If you can take a deep breath and settle down into some active listening, you may learn something really interesting. Perhaps your partner did it as a young man. It was the most alive he has ever felt and he wants the kids to experience that intense feeling of being alive. Perhaps he felt closer to God. Perhaps he was terrified and he wants his kids to face their fears. Listening to your partner share such a meaningful experience would change how you feel about what he wants for the children. You would be in a better position to negotiate something you both can live with.
Active listening is specially good when relating to your children. It demonstrates you can trust them to come to a good solution to their own problems.