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Have you ever heard someone close to you say, “I’m fine,” looked deeply into their eyes, and known that was a blatant lie? When we truly listen, we get to see the real pain in our loved one’s lives. When we see it clearly, we can do something about it. When we really listen, we can see the joy too and share that experience as well. When our children and students understand how to thoughtfully listen, they will be equipped not just to communicate, but to sincerely connect on a heart to heart level.

Stephen Covey says that, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This week my challenge to us as role models is to practice thoughtful listening. Let me illustrate what I mean.

I have always loved reading. As a child, I could often be found curled up in a chair with my nose in a good book. Reading is a good thing, but sometimes my love of reading backfired on my relationships with my family. Sometimes a family member would try to tell me something while I was reading and I would just say, “Mmhmmm,” to make them think I was listening. Then I would finish the chapter, look up at them, and realize I had no clue what they’d just said to me. Not very thoughtful of me, right?

So what is thoughtful listening?

Thoughtful listening is listening to understand. It means listening with the intention of seeing the other person’s heart. What is really going on in their life? How do they feel? Thoughtful listening shifts the focus away from me, away from my own thoughts, opinions, and agenda. It selflessly focuses on the other person.

Here are a few ways for you and your child to practice this skill this week:

1. Exercise your ears! Listening more.

As strange as that may sound, sometimes giving advice all the time closes people off to us. Sometimes all they want is someone to listen and understand. To practice this, go on a date night with your child. Here are 2 suggestions for date night:

-Let the child do the talking. As a parent, this is your chance listen and ask questions.

-Avoid the temptation of giving advice, unless of course it’s asked for.

2. No Squirrels Allowed! Avoiding Distractions.

Many things can distract and take away from the conversation, whether it’s a phone, a loud environment, other people… Carry on a conversation and have your child focus on looking you in the eye as they listen. Remember the dog, Doug, from the Pixar movie, ‘Up’? Mid-conversation he’d look away and say, “SQUIRREL!” Listening requires resisting the urge to look elsewhere, as that communicates a lack of interest. Proper eye contact shows genuine interest in the other person.

3. Go With the Flow! Resisting the Urge to Interrupt.

Every time I interrupt someone I mentally kick myself because I know that my interruption showed that I really cared about saying what I thought and didn’t really care about listening to what they thought. Carry on a conversation with your child and focus on not interrupting each other. When others are talking, try to focus fully on what is being said. Figure out what you want to say in response later.

4. Let’s Take a Walk! Walking In Their Shoes.

As we listen to someone’s story, putting ourselves in their shoes helps us understand their choices. Have your child walk around the house in a pair of grownup’s shoes. What is it like to wear work boots all day? Heels? Dress shoes? Sneakers? Talk with your child about their friend’s shoes. Have them ask, “how would this make me feel if I was in their position?” Sometimes I want to judge people for a decision they made that I disagree with. When this attitude comes up I have to remind myself that if I were in the same circumstances as them, I very likely would have made the same choice as them.

5. Take Turns! The Rhythm of Conversation.

A great way to practice thoughtful listening with your child is to carry on a conversation and take turns asking thoughtful questions and listening. One person holds a ball, asks a question, and then tosses the ball to the other person. They then answer the question, ask a new one, and toss the ball back. This exercise teaches children how to carry on a conversation involving both speaking and listening

6. Go Below The Surface! The Skill of Asking Questions.

Some questions can give your child a more complete understanding of the other person’s perspective. One of the best ways to go deeper is to use words like, “what,” “how,” and “why.” Have your child practice asking you lots of questions like:

-“What did you do after that?”

-“How did that make you feel?”

-“Why do you enjoy that song so much?”

Another way to clarify your understanding is to paraphrase. Make a statement and then give your child an opportunity to repeat back to you what they think they heard. This lets you clarify if they totally misunderstood.

Speaking lets others see your heart. Listening lets you see other people’s hearts. The good thing about thoughtful listening is that it’s a skill that can be practiced and improved. I’m looking forward to joining you this week in sincerely connecting to others through thoughtful listening.

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