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The Art and Skill of Effective Listening

My favorite piece of marriage advice I heard at a bridal shower is:

You have two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionately.  


This little quote can go straight to the heart of all relationships.

I’ll be honest…I love to talk. I am usually thinking of what I’ll say next while someone else is talking. My hamster-mind is running a hundred miles an hour.

It’s hard to admit it, but I’m an awful listener.

When my kids were littles, the energy it took to communicate with them was tremendous. I had to explain at their level what they needed to know, try to get back some response that they understood, and interpret whatever they said. Many days I felt like I was a foreign ruler in an odd country.

As children, I remember them also feeling frustrated because they would try to communicate to me a problem or issue and I just did not understand.

Some days the only thing to do was sit and cry together.

Art of Listening

Recently while drowning in the frustration that only comes with parent-teenager communication, I was reminded of a college class I took about effective communication. Neither of us was communicating effectively and neither thought the other was really hearing what the other was saying but really we probably were listening…just in our own way.

But no matter what you say or how you say it, if the person cannot understand or hear it, it’s not communication.

The International Listening Association defines listening as “the process receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or non-verbal messages.”

There are five types of listening that they list and each is needed in order to develop, grow, and nurture any personal relationship.

Art of Listening

Five types of listening

  1. Discriminative listening is explained as blocking out other sound to focus on a specific voice or sound.  This makes me think of when I shut off the car radio when I’m talking to my son in the car or when I am trying to focus on when my love is explaining his really bad, no-good day.  Giving full attention to the one you are listening to can be a challenge and a treat.
  2. Appreciative listening is listening to something to enjoy it, like music or the laughter of your children.  I always enjoy the sound of a quiet house at night or the steady hum of my kid’s breathing when I check on them.  It’s a joy and a treasure to appreciate the sounds of home. I think of this as joy listening. 
  3. Comprehensive listening can be described as listening to something to understand it, like a toddler talking or my favorite podcaster telling me how to be a more effective mother.  Sometimes when I’m in comprehensive listening mode, I have to shut my eyes to block out all visual stimulation. It’s listening to learn and understand.
  4. Critical listening is listening closely and examining what you’re listening.  Is the person you are talking to telling you the truth? Did the neighbor boy really say that about your yard?  What is the context behind that story? Is it gossip? I find this type of listening so difficult…it’s making judgments from what you or your experience has taught you.  To further muck it up, we need to allow for the experiences that others have had. As a mom/partner, this is a tall order most days.
  5. Empathetic listening is the method of listening to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust.  Yes, this is how we all want to communicate and listen…especially as a mom, a spouse/partner, and a friend.  When your child or friend is sharing their heart and they know that you are truly hearing them, relationships are nurtured and bloom.  An easy way of showing this is through mirroring others posture or words to demonstrate that you are hearing them.
Art of Listening

“Are you listening to me?” I probably say that a dozen times a week.

But am I listening to them? Now that’s a skill I’m going to be challenging myself to this summer.

Honestly I’m going to try to tame my hamster-wheel mind, put down my phone/computer/coffee, and spend more time truly hearing the stories that are being told to me.  

May I hear them honestly, joyfully, totally, without judgment, and with my heart.

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