Father and son sitting by the water.

How to Master the Art of Listening

As parents, we often feel the pressure to have all the answers. While imparting wisdom can be important, it is worthless if we’re not heard. If we are to parent well, we must improve our ability to listen.

Empathic listening is the one practice upon which all parenting successes and failures rest.

Stephen R. Covey explains empathic listening in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Empathic listeners “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival—to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

As parents, sometimes we have the illusion that we have control over our children. The truth is, at best, we have some influence, yet still very little control.

Influence is earned with building trust. We build trust by working on things we have control over like our attitude, responses, and habits.

It is impossible to build and maintain trust without empathic listening. Trust me.

When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

When I first heard about empathic listening, I thought it was more like active listening. You know, the skills we’ve heard are so important like eye contact, nodding to show interest, and leaning in. While these skills are important, they only scratch the surface of what it means to listen empathically.

When another person speaks, we’re usually ‘listening’ at one of four levels. We may be ignoring another person, not really listening at all. We may practice pretending. “Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.” We may practice selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the conversation. We often do this when we’re listening to the constant chatter of a preschool child. Or we may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said.”

For me, when I focus only on the words, I’m listening with the intent to reply, which is both controlling and manipulative. While I never intend to control or manipulate, it is what I am showing.

So, what is empathic listening?

Empathic listening is about…

1) Listening until the other person feels understood.
2) Listening for feeling and meaning.
3) Staying present and allowing space.
4) Remaining curious and not pre-determining other’s feelings.

Mostly, empathic listening is a gift. While it can be uncomfortable and challenging, it is the most important thing a parent can do to build trust and show unconditional love to a child.

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