Listening to understand

Posted: 12/30/2014 in Life lessons
Tags: , , , ,

“Will you JUST hear me OUT!?”

“I just WANT to be HEARD!”

“It’s like you’re not even listening to me!”

“I don’t need your answer. I just need you to understand.”

I can’t tell you how many times over the course of my career I have heard these and similar statements from the young people I have worked with (grown-ups, too).  Heck, I’ve even heard them from my own kids!  Usually, accompanied by some contorted facial gesture, an oxygen diminishing sucking of wind followed by a heavy guttural sigh, and a scene from The Exorcist rolling of the eyes. “GEEZ, DaaaaaaaaaD! (heavy enunciation on the D’s … while rolling eyes) It’s like your NOT even listening to meeeee!” (with clenched fists and gritting teeth)  Oooh.  I just had a flash back!

Everyone wants to be heard. Not just young folks. Everyone.

I have always fancied myself a good listener. However, as much as I like to believe so, it has not always been the case. Not that I haven’t always listened but that I sometimes have listened with an agenda. In the past, I have listened to respond.

Any of you grown-ups out there guilty? Here’s an example of how it has gone down with me. Maybe you can relate.

One day a student came to me with a major problem. Sulking and with the weight of the world pulling down the corners of his mouth and eyes and shoulders, he mumbled…“Got a minute, I need to talk?  Looking up from whatever important thing I was doing at the moment, I gave him the nod. “Sure.” The student fell into a chair and sat with his elbows on his knees and his forehead firmly cradled in his hands. Manning up to fight back tears, he proceeded to explain how his heart was crushed. His life just simply could never be the same because the girl he liked…the girl of his dreams… didn’t like him back.  Suddenly there was no more color in the world…Life had dimmed to a wretched gray-scale… Flowers no longer had fragrance… Food had no taste…His radio channel only played sad songs. He was a miserable mess.

You know the scenario?


Courtesy of Google Images

Having heard this story countless times before, I impatiently listened as his melt down continued. At some point, as he poured out his soul, my mind drifted to my own school days and the unfortunate experiences I had at not being liked back (which I now call wisdom). I thought, “I got through it…eventually. And so can he!” This tragic walk down memory lane occurred all while maintaining eye contact and affirming my attention to his relational roller-coaster with strategically placed nods and “uh-huhs.”

I told you I was listening.

I already had the answer. I knew just what I was going to say. I was ready to fix his problem and I hadn’t even finished hearing it. Boy, was I good or what? I just wished he’d stop talking so I could dazzle him with my incredible knowledge, vulnerable transparency, and the inspiration of my life goes on speech. The very speech to which the love bashed youth ungratefully replied, “I don’t need an answer. I just want you to understand what I’m going through.”  The nerve of the guy! Did he not realize I had just dropped some major knowledge on him? I wish I could remember his name.

Does this sound familiar?

Sometimes parents, educators, mentors, and youth workers have the misguided expectation that we have to have all the answers for the youngsters who confide in us.  We also have the misguided assumption that they want to hear them. To be fair, this expectation and desire generally comes from a good place.  We want to help.  We want to have an impact and inspire the next generation.  We want to make a difference. All good and noble motivation, to be sure. It’s how we’re wired and the reason we do what we do.

Despite the nobility of our motivation, many times we offer answers that students don’t need to hear, don’t want to hear, or are not ready to hear. In these cases, our answers, regardless of how on-point and undeniably awesome they are, can create more confusion than the situation that created the questions. And sometimes, there are no questions. There’s just hurt. In some more extreme cases our responses can cause loss of confidence in us as advisers and even estrangement. Our zeal to make a difference becomes counter-productive.

Over the years, I have adopted the concept of listening to understand versus listening to respond.  I know it’s not a new method and it’s a simple concept. It’s one of those minute to learn…lifetime to master things. Nonetheless, it can be mastered. It just takes practice. This simple practice has worked wonders in my personal relationships at home, as well as, my professional connections. It has equally worked wonders with the students I work with every day.

It’s no secret that kids want acceptance. They want to know they can be themselves without judgment or criticism. Too often, our answers, with all their wisdom, sound to them like just that. Judgment and criticism. Kids just want to be heard and reaffirmed that its okay to feel what they feel. You don’t have to agree with their feelings or opinions. You don’t have to approve of their actions. Unless they ask a direct question, you don’t have to provide answers. And, even then, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” Just listen to understand what they are going through and you might gain some insight to their feelings, opinions and actions. You might learn something valuable about them and  gain their trust along the way.

The only way they will ever grow through the emotions and rigors of childhood and adolescence is by feeling those emotions and enduring those rigors. Listening to understand can place you in a prime location to guide them from where they are to where they can go. That’s the opportunity we’re all looking for, right?

I have found over the years that the best way to lead someone down the path to what they will some day be, is to accept who they are now.

Listening to understand is the beginning  and a demonstration of that acceptance.

…Peace and Blessings…

~ joe

  1. Chelmarie says:

    This is good Joe! Thank you. God bless

    Liked by 1 person

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