Attitudes Required to Use Active Listening
Active Listening is not a simple technique that parents pull out of their “tool kit” whenever their children have problems. It is a method for putting to work a set of basic attitudes. Without these attitudes, the method seldom will be effective; it will sound false, empty, mechanical, insincere. Here are some basic attitudes that must be present when a parent is using Active Listening. Whenever these attitudes are not present, a parent cannot be an effective active listener.
1. You must want to hear what the child has to say. This means you are willing to take the time to listen. If you don’t have time, you need only say so.
2. You must genuinely want to be helpful to him with his particular problem at that time. If you don’t want to, wait until you do.
3. You must genuinely be able to accept his feelings, whatever they may be or however different they may be from your own feelings or from the feelings you think a child “should” feel. This attitude takes time to develop.
4. You must have a deep feeling of trust in the child’s capacity to handle his feelings, to work through them, and to find solutions to his problems. You’ll acquire this trust by watching your child solve his own problems.
5 . You must appreciate that feelings are transitory, not permanent. Feelings change—hate can turn into love, discouragement may quickly be replaced by hope. Consequently, you need not be afraid of feelings getting expressed; they will not become forever fixed inside the child. Active Listening will demonstrate this to you.
6 . You must be able to see your child as someone separate from you—a unique person no longer joined to you, a separate individual having been given by you his own life and his own identity. This “separateness” will enable you to “permit” the child to have his own feelings, his own way of perceiving things. Only by feeling “separateness” will you be able to be a helping agent for the child. You must be “with” him as he experiences his problems, but not joined to him.
The Risk of Active Listening
Active Listening obviously requires the receiver to suspend his own thoughts and feelings in order to attend exclusively to the message of the child. It forces accurate receiving; if the parent is to understand the message in terms of the child’s meaning, he must put himself into the child’s shoes (into his frame of reference, into his world of reality), and he can then hear the meaning intended by the sender. The “feedback” part of Active Listening is nothing more than the parent’s ultimate check on the accuracy of his listening, although it also assures the sender (child) that he has been understood when he hears his own “message” fed back to him accurately.
Something happens to a person when he practices Active Listening. To understand accurately how another person thinks or feels from his point of view, to put yourself momentarily into his shoes, to see the world as he is seeing it—you as a listener run the risk of having your own opinions and attitudes changed. In other words, people actually become changed by what they really understand. To be “open to the experience” of another invites the possibility of having to reinterpret your own experiences. This can be scary. A “defensive” person cannot afford to expose himself to ideas and views that are different from his own. A flexible person, however, is not as afraid of being changed. And kids who have flexible parents respond positively when they see their mothers and fathers willing to change, willing to be human.