Do you ever think that people overall in their rush to get their own thoughts and feelings out have lost the fine art of listening? Is the world moving at such lightning speed that we focus more on keywords (as if we are searching for something on the internet) rather than looking at the complete message? Being a shy introvert by nature, I spend more of my time listening than I really do talking. However I do lose my cool when I clearly look people in the face, give a quick explanation to a question that they ask… and I hear, “I’m sorry I wasn’t listening, can you please repeat yourself?” three times for the same thing.
Let me phrase that carefully- my daughters act like whenever I speak I’m the teacher in the old Peanuts cartoons. You know the one right- she would just squawk but never really say anything in word form. I wonder if they really consider me important or if I continue to just be a means to an end for them when I’m around- a taxi driver when they need transportation, a bank when they need money, a mirror so that they can just bounce their thoughts off of me with little to no response.
It really makes you doubt your ability to communicate effectively. I work very hard at keeping my thoughts brief- as I’ve learned that lecturing them to learn lessons is an exercise in futility. I’m wasting my breath and energy as they’ve tuned out after the first five seconds with their sighs and eye rolls. So I think I try to balance my communication skills with short bursts of helpful hints and phrases to get them through the day.
Think positive. Be well. Have a good day. I love you. I’m proud of you. You’re doing a great job. I’m sorry to hear that. You seem angry, frustrated, scared, worried, etc.- what’s up? Smile. Let’s dance. Is something bothering you? Cancel (when they seem stuck in negative thoughts). I think it’s time for a walk. And so on.
That’s why I’ve learned to go within my own world when I feel unimportant by their lack of listening. I can’t take it personally- it’s where their social development skills are at. We are dealing with children who when they used to cry because they were hungry, or cold, or scared, didn’t have their needs met. When you fall years behind in the development scale, unless you are willing to put in the effort to learn the skills you lack, you’ll probably continue to struggle while your peers have advanced beyond those issues.
My youngest daughter wonders why she doesn’t have many friends. She hasn’t figured out that you not only have to know facts and figures about the people around you, you have to actually develop empathy and look outside of your own needs many times to be there for the support and care of others. When she plays a board game, she wants to win or will bend the rules to get her way. If around younger children, she attempts to wedge her way in to force people to pay attention to her. Instead of relaxing and developing self-confidence, she feels the need to be the boss, in control and struggles with back and forth conversational skills.
Outside of great books by clinicians and psychiatrists such as Daniel Hughes, Ross Greene and Foster Cline, some of the things I’ve learned through the years also can apply to conversations with any human being. They include the following:
1) Maintain eye contact while the other person is talking. You don’t have to stare eyeball to eyeball, but it’s acceptable to lean in and look at their eyes and face.
2) If you have to criticize, buffer it with praise before and after the problem you may have. There’s nothing worse than being paid a compliment, then hearing the word “but” followed by the pile of things you are doing wrong. Guess which one stays with you longer in that case?
3) Remember to be flexible with your language. My children are looking for the negative words. You could be speaking about their behavior (act stupid), and guess what they think you said (they are stupid)?
4) If you are angry and you try to effectively communicate, I don’t think it will work out. It’s ok to take time to regather yourself if you need to get across information or a point when people are doing something wrong. Yelling, screaming, cursing- they make the speaker look incapable and out of control, not the listener.
I’d love to hear what works for others when it comes to speaking and listening. Communication is vital, yet precise communication stays with us forever.