Listening to understand

Alan White New

Alan White

“Loneliness doesn’t come from having no one around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that are important to you.” – Carl Jung

How many times have you had a conversation, and after it finished, you struggled to remember what you spoke about? More importantly, how many times have you struggled to remember what the other person said? When we interact with others, we tend to listen to respond, rather than listen to understand. While the other person is speaking, we are preparing what we are going to say next in our minds.

We do this for many reasons, such as, making sure we say the right thing. To ensure we tell the person what we want them to know or even sometimes, we do it when we are simply not interested in what the other person has to say. It’s not always a serious thing if we communicate with some people like this. However when we communicate in this way with the people who are closest to us, we can often feel like we are not understood.

We all need to feel like we are valued and heard. One of the greatest gifts we can give to another person, is our undivided attention. Taking the time to really listen to someone can be empowering. Both for the person talking and the listener. This need is particularly true for young people. Children and teenagers are told what to do and given instructions a lot. This obviously has positives. Young people need and actually like structure in their lives. However it can be difficult for them to get the opportunity to really be heard.

We are living busier and busier lives these days, often bordering on the frantic. We rush from one thing to the next, rarely taking the time to really talk and listen to the important people in our lives. When we ask someone close to us, “any news?” we often get a quick synopsis of their day and not much else.

Young people can have a very delicate sense of self-esteem. The adults in their lives have a key role in helping them to strengthen this sense of self-worth and actively listening can play a major role. If a child or adolescent does not feel listened to, it can often make them question their value and affect their sense of self-worth.

So how can we improve our communication and actively listen to someone? Active listening is not just a case of being quiet when someone else is talking. To feel understood, a person, especially a young person who is developing their sense of self needs to feel not only heard but understood. This means that when they are telling you something about themselves, or something that happened to them, it needs to first of all, be taken seriously. Young people are often reluctant to talk to adults about what is going on for them. So if they do confide in us, it’s a big deal.

When actively listening, it is also important to seek clarification if you are unsure what the person meant. This shows that you are interested in what they are saying and want to understand their perspective. To show that that you are listening, it is important to repeat back what they have told you, in your own words. This shows that you do understand what they are telling you.

Another aspect of listening, especially to children and teenagers is that, it is important not to Judge. If you come across as judgemental or critical, they will simply shut down, and it may be difficult to get them to communicate again. Many young people are quite insecure in themselves, as they are trying to figure out not only themselves, but where they fit in, in the world. If they feel judged in any way, they will retreat and shut off open communication.

The old saying, a problem shared is a problem halved, comes to mind here. Having caring adults in their lives is key to the healthy emotional development of children and teenagers. If a child feels that they have someone they can go to, no matter what they will feel safe and cared for. This is an inherent need in all of us and if met, can be one of the greatest gifts we can ever receive.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

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Listening to understand

One Response

  1. Great work Alan. Love your Choices Facilitator Guide. Well done.

    Bette January 26, 2017 at 6:35 pm #

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