Much emotional agony is avoided and more relationship healing is possible when a person learns to listen with love. There were two similar conversations that had very different results. The first conversation was between a mother and her son. The son told his mother about a problem he was having with a friend, but she began a chore while he was talking to her. She let her son speak, but was distracted with her to To Do list and didn’t really listen with love.
With no solution to his problem, he was lost in thought. Then His father started a conversation. “You’re deep in thought son. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
Immediately the son explained the same story he had shared with his mother that afternoon. But this second conversation was different than the first, because the son left feeling like everything would be okay, like someone really understood, and like he knew what he must do for his friend next.
Why were the results of his father’s conversation so different than those of his mother’s? One parent was just there for the story, and the other parent knew how to listen with love.
Learning to Listen With Love
I’m a talker. This is my strength and my weakness. My brain naturally thinks of what it needs to say next very quickly, sometimes even before the person I’m talking to stops telling me what they want to say. The result of this quick thinking brain problem is that I can interrupt people, especially people who talk slow or take a long time to form their ideas. I’ve known the problem exists and have been working on it for a long time. Today I’d like to share some of the key lessons I’ve learned that have helped me listen with love.
These lessons aren’t just for talkers. Even people who aren’t quick to talk or form ideas can get lost in their own thoughts and forget to listen and really understand when someone is talking. I’m not perfect at listening with love yet. I have a feeling that it’s a lifetime pursuit. But, my conversations are significantly more connective than they were 25 years ago, 10 years ago, or even 2 years ago. This realization of this progress inspires me to continue with my goal to really understand people. To do this I have to always focus on listening with love.
10 Listening Lessons
1. Focus your whole attention on them. One of the biggest reasons the father in this story had such a positive impact on the son, as opposed to the mother , is because the father took the time to focus his whole attention on his son. He didn’t look at screens or do chores. Nothing says love like giving our precious time to another person.
2. Silence is okay. Some people think that silence is an awkward feeling, and they do anything necessary to fill that silence with conversation, even if it means never allowing another person to talk. I’ve had to tell myself that silence is okay, even healthy. People need time to process what has been said and what they think about it. Embrace silence.
3. Sometimes just think but don’t say. In addition to embracing silence when it comes, sometimes we need to create some silence on our own. Maybe this was the hardest lesson for me to learn. I remember challenging myself not to talk in certain settings so that others could have more of a chance to talk. I couldn’t turn my brain off, but I could keep my mouth shut, for the most part, to let someone else shine. As long as I’m looking at the speaker, I’m still engaged in the conversation. This is really just being humble in social settings. Listening with love means first giving someone else the chance to speak.
4. Look at the person. Speak with your eyes. Looking in another person’s eyes is the easiest way to bond and show love and caring. When they’re talking, when you’re talking, and when no one is talking, take time to look into their eyes with love and kindness. Communicate the truths, “I really enjoy being with you,” and, “You matter to me,” with your eyes.
5. Judging first is always a trap. Judgements are required for solving problems. But if judgements come before all the facts, then they can be very destructive to relationships. Don’t decide what the root of the problem is until you’ve heard the whole story and asked some questions for clarification. Listening with love and understanding means giving the speaker time to tell their whole story. If you’re the kind of person who likes to ‘cut to the chase,’ save time, or solve a problem quickly, you could subconsciously turn your brain off when someone needs your listening ear. You know who you are.
6. Analyze their words before planning your words. Think their words twice before you speak. This habit is a great way to make sure you don’t judge them or try to solve their problem too quickly. This also helps you focus on what they are saying instead of worrying about what you will say next.
7. Value them and their experiences. Every story someone tells doesn’t have to relate to a story you’ve had in your own life. People who always try to follow up a story with one of their own stories give the impression that they think their experience is more significant than the experience shared. Sometimes it creates connections to share a similar story, but usually it steals the attention in a conversation. Be very careful. Listening with love means they are important enough to get time to let their story or experience shine in the conversation for a while.
8. Recognize that when they say something, they might have just heard it for the first time and could change their mind later. Don’t be overly concerned with word choice or emotional sentiment. People misrepresent what they mean all the time. When listening to someone tell an experience, let them tell it for their benefit as much as for yours. And remember, sometimes they just needed to tell someone in order to find the solution to their problem or to recognize the fault they had in a situation. Be that sounding board.
9. Ask questions. Conversations often get one sided or selfish if no one is willing to ask questions. Questions show that the listener really cares.
10. Repeat back what they said. Repeating back key points someone shared in conversation does a few things. It helps a lazy listener stay on task, it gives a listener time to think of what to say, and it shows the other speaker that they were understood.
Just like my self-government journey to listen with love, each of us have behaviors we want to change about ourselves. Listening with love has changed my relationships with my husband, my children, God, my friends, and my acquaintances. I’m not perfect yet, but I know self-government is possible in all the areas of my life because of the success I’ve had with this one issue. Which of the 10 lessons do you need to work on most to become a better listener? Pick one to work on this week. Small, deliberate actions towards a personal goal can change a life forever.
Learn more self-government skills to strengthen your relationships at the upcoming Teaching Self-Government Parenting Mastery Training. Details are here.