The interesting thing about listening is that, when we don’t separate our own internal dialogue from what we hear, we may unwittingly end up judging the person who is sharing with us. Conversely, when we share with someone, it is incredibly disheartening to not be heard.
My son struggled to fit in from a young age, particularly in stressful group situations like daycare and school. As a single parent trying to support him through those challenges, I am guilty of not immediately understanding how best to approach his challenges. While my knowledge and ability to support his needs grew, the challenge was trying to influence other adults who interacted with my son in a collaborative manner – trying hard to choose words carefully, to be ever diplomatic and supportive towards those who I felt just didn’t get it or didn’t care to get it. It was incredibly disheartening to witness the stigma that surrounded him. us. And it was heartbreaking to watch his self esteem deteriorate before my eyes.
The parts of him that those who judged him didn’t necessarily see or get to know, were truly remarkable. His insightfulness, artistic abilities, amazing sense of humour, stone skipping, running, cycling and swimming skills, his compassion, his generosity, love of animals, and his philosophical nature filled me with wonder and pride. His ideas about what school should be like, and how to help other kids like himself were rooted in empathy and were virtually nowhere to be found.
While I became better versed at really listening to him to help him navigate the stresses of his world, I could see that judgement was too often a barrier for others to really hear him and understand his needs. We are all guilty of judging others – it seems almost impossible not to impose our views of what should be, what is right, and good onto those who we interact with. And our kids learn that from us too.
To build on the concept of creating microcosms of positivity, I have learned there are ways that we can practice listening without judgement and wanted to share a few with you to help us navigate discussions and #SpreadTheLove.
Give time and space without interruption. This is a hard one for me – I come from a family that talks over one-another. While lovingly intended, it can make someone feel really alone and misunderstood when they are trying to share.
Empathize with what is being shared. Rather than trying to problem solve, acknowledging feelings can help someone feel seen and heard. Simply saying, ‘that sounds tough’ or ‘I am sorry to hear that you are going through this’ is a powerful empathy step and builds trust and understanding.
Show you care. Tell them in words how much they matter and how much their feelings are important to you. Check in frequently to let them know you are there.
Separate your experience from theirs. While we want to relate to what someone else is going through, comparing our own experiences can sometimes feel like a dismissal of feelings being shared. I also find this to be a tricky one and one that I am constantly trying to do better. Asking if there is something you can do to help can be a way to avoid the comparison and also reinforce that you are there.
For Children: A video about empathetic listening
For Youth: A TEDxYouth video about active listening.
For Caregivers: This article offers strategies on how to engage in active listening, and a downloadable list of coping skills.
For Educators: Active Listening in the Classroom, an Important Motivational Strategy.