By Guest Blogger Sharon Coulter, MA, MFTi, CT/RTC
The truth is that even when we can quiet our chattering minds, usually our brain is
busy either preparing a rebuttal to what we are hearing “Yes, but ….” , or busy rehearsing what we’re going to say as soon as the person stops speaking. The ability to patiently listen to your loved ones with empathy is a rare gift you give them, and a special talent you can cultivate. The skill of listening is especially critical for healthy relationships and keeping open a clear and caring line of communication. What do I mean by that? Listening with empathy means immersing yourself in the other’s experience with the purpose of better understanding that individual. If you find you’re having difficulty following what the person is saying, ask questions from a place of curiosity not judgement or advice giving. The beauty of this approach is that in creating a safe and calm space for the speaker, answers come to the person more easily.
For parents, I encourage you to try the following exercise 2-3 times each week. Establish a time when you and your child/adolescent have time together to talk. The goal of this time together is for you to better understand your child. Find a place where you and your child will not be interrupted by other siblings. You can even give your time together a name, for example, your “special time” or your “alone time.” This is very meaningful for children. For spouses, committing to establishing listening times for each of you is excellent for decreasing the level of tension in your relationship and bringing you closer.
In your own words, just let your partner know that you’re interested in understanding them better, and you appreciate them “sharing” with you. A walk together may provide the perfect time for this exercise. You’ll be surprised by what you learn about one another!
Remember, listening is an art and, like anything else, to be a good listener takes commitment and practice. When in doubt about whether you’re doing it well, just keep in mind that the word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent.”
1600 Rosecrans Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266