I recently read a story in the book The Art of Friendship by Roger Horchow. It went like this:
My friend Dick Bass (now into his seventies) has traveled far and wide and had many adventures. His achievements include being the first person to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents, as well as being the oldest person (by five years) to climb Mount Everest (at the age of fifty-five.)
He once told me a story of a plane ride, on which he sat next to a nice man who listened to him go on about the treacherous peaks of Everest and McKinley, the time he almost died in the Himalayas, and his upcoming plan to re-climb Everest. Just before the plane landed, Bass turned to the man sitting next to him and said, “After all this, I don’t think I’ve introduced myself. My name is Dick Bass.” The man shook his hand and responded, “Hi, I’m Neil Armstrong. Nice to meet you.”
As parents, we are all too often guilty of the same missed opportunities. We talk so much that we forego the chance to learn something about our son or daughter.
If we will practice some restraint in sharing all we know or feel, we may find that we are being educated on something we had never considered before. We might discover a new depth or struggle in this person we believed we knew so much about. We could even have our minds and hearts changed.
Here are three simple adjustments to our listening skills that we can all try on for size this holiday season.
- Square up – Don’t be guilty of the unintended cold shoulder. Regretfully, we are regularly found scrolling through our phone or typing on a computer while someone is talking to us. Instead, raise your eyes to look into theirs. Square your shoulders to the person who is talking. It will most likely produce a pleasant shock.
- Ask for more – Asking a clarifying question is a good place to start, but inquiring about how this or that made them feel, or what their next move will be is a giant step up in the level of concern and interest.
- When there is a pause, zip it – Restraint should be our mantra. Do not jump in with something similar that happened to you. And for heaven’s sake, don’t top their story with one of your own. Wait. Mull over what they’ve said. Let it effect you. Our kids will either offer up further information, or they will feel satisfied that you have heard them and turn the questions and conversation back to you.
As a parent I understand the weighty responsibility we feel to teach our children. However, it can trick us into thinking we need to be on stage lecturing regularly. This usually yields a “Mom or Dad Deafness” result.
In my own life, I have found that even as a professional therapist, it’s difficult to be an excellent listener within your own family. The amount of contact we have creates a living and working side-by-side scenario.
Though it’s normal, it’s not desirable. Because time and relationships are fleeting. determine today that you will turn and face them, ask a question or two, and keep your mouth shut when that brilliant advice starts to bubble up.
I believe listening well is one of the greatest gifts we can give our loved ones this holiday.
To your family’s success and happiness,
Tim Thayne, Ph.D, LMFT