Wanted: The Skill of Listening.

Have you noticed how common it is in our culture to interrupt each other in mid-sentence?   Even if your not an “interrupter” ask yourself how often you stop listening to what the other is saying to begin formulating your response in your mind?  As well, no one enjoys being married to a person who is always correcting or criticizing what they say.

These patterns of communication happen at work, around the dinner table, between spouses, parents, kids and everywhere.  We often fail to truly listen to others and validate their opinions or feelings, regardless of whether we agree with them or not.  In my own house I see this happening and I am guilty of it as much as the others.   We live in a culture where the loudest and most aggressive voices are the ones heard, yet, is anyone really listening?

When it comes to a marriage relationship, the communication skill of listening and honoring each others thoughts and opinions is essential to a healthy and positive relationship.  Too often one person in a marriage keeps their feelings to them self when there is a pattern of being ignored, interrupted, or criticized for the things they say.

Where To Start?

Thinking from the perspective of prevention, we need to start with the reality that many adults go into marriage with poor listening habits.  Thus, if we as parents want to give our kids a skill that will serve them well in adulthood and marriage, we would do well to teach them how to listen, as well as give them the confidence to share their thoughts and ask good questions.

Below are some ideas that can be adapted and get you started with your kids, or with each other.

  1. Discourage interruptions.  Make your house a “no-interruption” zone.  Use rewards or consequences in a way that encourages everyone, adult and child, to practice the common courtesy of letting others finish their thoughts.  While no one is perfect, make this the norm, not the exception.
  2. The Saltshaker.  In our house we went through a period at the dinner table where it was so bad we started having the person who was speaking hold the saltshaker.  When someone interrupted, the speaker would hold up the saltshaker and remind them that they had the floor.  The offender would apologize and encourage the speaker to continue.
  3. Tell stories.  Telling stories around the dinner table or on the go in the car is a great way to practice listening skills.  Encourage questions and give affirmations.
  4. Ask questions.  Now is the time to instill the belief in your kids that it’s okay to ask questions and share their opinions with others.  Too many children grow up inhibited because they were criticized for asking questions or when sharing their thoughts.  Make it a practice to ask your kids questions and affirm them when they ask you questions.
  5. Thank others when they share their opinion.  This is a powerful validation of each other, especially when you may not agree with what they said.  In doing this you are telling the other person they are important to you and you care about what they think.