Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What My Daughter Taught Me about Listening

About 10 years ago, when my daughter Alison was in high school, she used to babysit after school to earn spending money. One afternoon she had a difficult situation with one of the children, and she was very upset when she got home.
As she started telling me about the details, I found myself jumping into problem-solving mode. I started asking a lot of questions, then suggested how she might have handled the situation differently. She kept trying to tell me about what had happened, and I continued to interject pieces of advice
Finally, Alison stopped me and said very emphatically, “Mom, I don’t need your suggestions. I had a horrible day. All I really wanted you to do is listen and be sympathetic. I’ve already taken care of this.”
Boy, did that stop me in my tracks. She was looking for understanding and compassion, and I fell way short. What she didn’t need at that moment was someone evaluating and criticizing her actions or giving her advice.
I am grateful to this day that Alison confronted me and stated so clearly what she was looking for. Most of the people we interact with every day aren’t this honest when we miss the mark. As a result, both parties can end up frustrated and disappointed. Here’s the insight I learned that day. 
Anytime someone wants to talk with you about a problem, don’t assume they’re looking to you for an answer. They may simply need a sympathetic ear or some encouragement.
One of our deepest human cravings is to be understood. When we feel that someone really “gets us,” we bond with that person in a meaningful way. So when someone comes to you with a problem, your goal is to express understanding of her situation and her feelings. While this may sound simple, it requires effort to set aside your need to give advice or try to solve the problem. If you listen and encourage instead of offering advice, the people you care about will be more likely to talk with you about the challenges they're dealing with. And your relationship will grow stronger.


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