by Melanie VanderPol-Bailey, MSW, CSW-PIP
“Hey you, listen up! Listen here, pay attention, focus”. From an early age, we are told to listen. How we are taught to listen likely comes from the adults we are surrounded by. Children observe those around them, and communication is modeled and often then replicated. As we begin to put the brakes on summer and many of us shift into the school season schedule, I invite you to think about how you listen. If you have younger children, you are teaching them how to listen as well.
Reflective listening is a commonly taught listening skill and is especially helpful when there is the potential for conflict. In reflective listening, instead of reacting to what is said, the listener reflects back what it is they heard, to better understand what the speaker is saying. Reflective listening does not mean that you are agreeing with what the person is saying. The listener simply rephrases what they hear. Listening without reaction; without formulating your response, can go a long way towards navigating difficult conversations.
Valarie Kaur, in her book See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, shares her wisdom on listening when she writes:
“When listening gets hard, I focus on taking the next breath. I pay attention to sensations in my body: heat, clenching, and constriction. I feel the ground beneath my feet. Am I safe? If so, I stay and slow my breath again, quiet my mind, and release the pressure that pushes me to defend my position. I try to wonder about this person’s story and the possible wound in them. I think of an earnest question and try to stay curious long enough to be changed by what I hear. Maybe, just maybe, my opponent will begin to wonder about me in return, ask me questions, and listen to my story. Maybe their views will start to break apart and new horizons will open in the process. . . . Then again, maybe not. It doesn’t matter as long as the primary goal of listening is to deepen my own understanding. Listening does not grant the other side legitimacy. It grants them humanity—and preserves our own”.
Listening with love changes the way we hear. It can slow us down, allowing us to see the other and to do our best to understand them. It is okay if we do not agree, but when we don’t agree we do not have to become upset, or rush to defend, or judge or prosecute. Maybe we just need to be quiet, and seek to understand what someone is trying to say. Consider having a check in at the supper table with your family to see what is both helpful and what has also been hurtful in communication. Celebrate the good and discuss ways to move through hard moments with love.
Poor communication has the potential to cause damage within relationships, and hurts can remain for long periods of time. If you are struggling with communication; you are not alone. We have competent and caring therapists in all four of our locations - River Counseling Services in Platte, Sioux Falls Psychological Services, and Stronghold Counseling Services in Sioux Falls and in Yankton - who will meet you where you are, offering hope. You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office at 605-337-3444, or meet with one of our Sioux Falls or Yankton based therapists from your own computer or smartphone. To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696.