This a question I encountered on Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog—handsfreemama.com—which I highly recommend. She said it’s a question she gets often from teens. I get a similar question in my training programs after a listening exercise gives people the experience of being listened to in an attentive, patient, devoted way. Participants ask: How can I get someone to listen to me like that?
Let’s start by understanding that getting someone to listen to you is a common problem: very good people (supervisors, friends, parents) don’t always listen well—at least not in the way you might like.
In other words, having someone in your life who truly listens first, waits, and then listens some more without offering reactions or advice is rare.
So it’s not surprising if that kind of profound listening is currently missing.
Still, we want and need to be listened to in a way that we know we’ve been heard. Not being listened to is frustrating, disappointing, and at times even hurtful. It’s so important to get listening like this into the relationships that matter to us.
So what can you do? This is one place where we could apply Occam’s razor: The simplest answer is most often correct. Ask them to listen to you.
Here are some ways you might ask:
- Dad, I’ve got something to figure out. Would you listen to me while I think it through out loud?
- Mom, I need to vent to someone about something that happened. Can you just listen to me while I talk about it so I can get to a better place with what happened?
- Dad, I appreciate your advice, but I’m wondering if we could have a conversation where you mostly listened until I was finished talking about it?
- Dad, I need about three minutes of your time to tell you what is going on at school that I think you’d like to know about.
- I’m worried about something, but I need to talk about it without being worried about your reaction. Can you just listen without making a judgment right away?
Notice that each of these example lets your parents know what you are looking for from them. It helps them listen in the way you want them to listen.
Here are some other things to try:
Be the role model… Reverse roles and demonstrate the behavior you are looking for. Every time one of your parents speaks to you, put down your smart phone or book, put the tv on mute, pull off your headphones, and give them your full attention. Listen to what they are saying fully before you respond. If you do this all the time in a visible way—not making a big deal out of it, but in a visible way—it will catch on—maybe even with your parents! There’s a great article on our website called “Tell Me More” where the author listened to her father over and over and over and eventually he noticed and began to listen to her!
Find an activity that will give you both something to do while you talk… Playing board games or taking drives or walks or shooting hoops are great for this. Find an activity that takes some time so there is room for a slower-paced conversation. Sometimes it’s easier to say something if you don’t have to make eye contact.
After the conversation, say thanks… Let them know you appreciated their taking the time to listen or for listening in the way you asked them to listen. The next day, refer back to the conversation and let them know again that you appreciated how they stayed out of the conversation long enough for you to say what you needed to say.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly….don’t give up. It takes time to change patterns, and inattentive listening is a common and deeply ingrained pattern. But all patterns can be changed if you are persistent. Keep asking others to listen to you and keep being a great listener whenever someone speaks to you. You will get there—and this is truly a social skill worthy of mastery.
Let me know how it works for you! ([email protected])