One of the most challenging skills I needed to develop was the art of listening. What are your listening skills like?
It seems I had the habit of always trying to answer or make a comment while someone was talking. I thought if I waited until they were finished, I would forget what I was going to say, especially if I felt it was important.
Constantly be aware. Hold your response until the other person is finished speaking because, in a family situation, it can become quite messy. Each member will feel they are not being heard.
Everyone is trying to override the other and, eventually, the conversation will heat up to a noisy atmosphere. Frustration will set in and destroy any chance of a positive outcome resulting from your discussions.
“The first rule of thumb is you must understand to be understood.”
If the other person feels you really have heard his or her side of the situation, he or she is more inclined to hear your side.
Never assume he or she feels as though you understood. Always verify that they do. For example, repeat what the person said and ask, “Is that right?” If he or she says yes, you can begin explaining your story. But if he or she says no, then you must persist until you get a yes.
What I mean is, listen with the intent of understanding the other person. That does not mean you agree with the person, but that you understand what the person is trying to convey.
Communication experts estimate only 10 percent of communication is conveyed by words, while 30 percent is conveyed by sounds and 60 percent by body language. You must listen with your ears but, most importantly, with your eyes and with your heart.
Once a person feels as though he or she has been heard, he or she will feel affirmed, validated and appreciated. After that, you can focus on influencing or problem solving.
One day when my daughter phoned me and wanted to see me, I sensed a desperate tone in her voice and knew she was concerned about how her life was turning out. When she arrived at my house, we sat down and I listened to her explain how her life was getting worse and worse. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong and she looked so helpless. I never had seen her so upset.
It really affected me to see my youngest daughter in this way. I listened with empathy (not sympathy) and never interrupted her until she let out all her feelings. I knew she was a mess, but I also knew I could help her get through all the issues that were, to her, insurmountable.
We shared so much that day. We hugged and cried and I saw in her eyes that she understood that I understood. Once I validated her worries, I said assertively that if she would do everything I suggested, I could fix all her problems, guaranteed. She was dumbfounded. All in one moment, I saw the relief in her body language and in her eyes.
I explained to her she had been making decisions on her own now, as she was an adult, and she was receiving all the results from her own doing. Her decisions of the past were creating her life for the future.
Therefore, to change her results quickly, she would have to trust me in making the decisions for her in the short term so she could feel better and make decisions for herself again later in the long term. I explained I could not help her unless she agreed for me to help her in this way. She agreed.
Once I completed my strategies and plans to overcome her issues, we were eager to implement them straightaway. And we did.
There were a few times she did not agree with my suggestions, but I reminded her of our agreement and also that it was her thought processes and strategies that caused her to be in these situations. To quote Albert Einstein again, “No problem was ever solved with the same knowledge and information that created it.”
I am happy to say that within one month, seventy-five percent of her issues were overcome and, two months after that, she was the happy, funny and loveable girl I remembered.
As a father, I was grateful she trusted me for advice and it gave me a tremendous feeling that I was able to help her in her hour of need.
I don’t think this outcome would have been possible if I had just encouraged her to do what I suggested immediately without taking the time to listen to her.
In communication, in any situation including your family, always listen first to understand, with empathy, before you even consider giving your opinion or advice.
You will so glad you did.