Updated: May 19, 2022
Have you ever been told to listen?
Have you ever been taught how to listen?
Think about it…
What about this: have you ever told your child to listen?
Have you ever taught them how to listen?
So, I was on a call the other day, on zoom, with five or more people, and I started off my question, asking something personal that I was struggling with. And right away, I caught on the screen, in those tiny little boxes, the lack of mindful listening skills my fellow friends were offering me.
And I don’t mean that they were multitasking.
As I was sharing this thought, I could see body language in other squares that would suggest that my question made these people feel uncomfortable. There was head shaking and little smirks. It was very noticeable that either they thought the question was silly, or they had a great answer they were itching to share, or that they thought I should look at the problem differently to be effective. Whatever I assumed didn’t matter, really. That’s my inner voice popping up to protect me from feeling shame or embarrassment. Which I did feel for a slight second. If I am being honest…and human.
But being that I am truly in a compassionate relationship with myself, I was able to be my own bestie and realize quickly that the issue was not me and the question I had. I was entitled to raise my hand, ask what I wanted, without judgment or criticism from others. The issue actually, in my opinion, was that the others on the call were not being taught the act of mindful listening.
I don’t blame them.
It’s clear that judgment comes more naturally than compassion, internally in the way we speak to ourselves and externally in the way we don’t allow others to express themselves freely.
I remember hearing Glennon Doyle say on a podcast how we are all running around in this life talking over each other, one-upping one another, trying to relate or be better, just so that we feel heard and seen.
When in reality, we are missing the point of community - which is to be supportive, caring, compassionate and downright neutral when someone has a question that they want to ask!
This got me thinking about my children’s experience the past few years. And how at their young ages, going through big developmental changes, the zoom experience, especially one that lacks in listening skills, would be very difficult to internally manage.
After that call, I felt low. I wondered if I looked stupid or said out loud something I should have delt with alone. And I work on my self-talk all the time. I had the skill to talk back at myself with compassion. But I can only imagine how our kids would have felt on camera, learning and having been expected to share academics with their classmates virtually...
The dialogue you must have within yourself, the self-compassionate voice you need to cultivate to combat this emotional experience, would be challenging.
Like I said, I know. I just felt it.
So as we end a year that has been a mix of both virtual and in-person learning, one critical skill we can teach our kids, and ourselves to model really, is how to be a better listener.
In my mindful self-compassion training, and in subsequent courses I have taken, we are taught to sit in circles of practices where we learn to listen to someone speak for a timed period. The person you are paired with is able to share whatever is on their mind, without interruption, without judgment, without expression of compassion, empathy, joy or excitement. This listening is a practice of mindful stillness, an act of care for another person. And it’s hard.
We are naturally so good at giving advice, jumping in, wanting to fix problems. But this mindful listening is not that. You are listening to let the other person be heard and seen. For real.
When you experience it on the other end, as the speaker, it’s a treat. A release of all things tense but good.
It’s one of the most important gifts you can give to yourself, too.
When you learn how to listen to yourself, when you get to know your own inner voice that speaks to what you desire, what makes you laugh or cry, what feels good and bad, what gives you energy and what drains your energy, that’s when you can become self-directed. That’s when you can honor yourself - your yes and no. That’s when you can be guided in the right direction. It’s all within you. If you listen carefully.
Kids are heading into another transition. From school to summer. Some even heading into sleepover camp.
In my new Mini Pep-Talks, Sleepover Camp Edition, I wrote a card about the impact of listening. Listening to others and listening to yourself.
So the next time…
your child comes to you to talk, stop, give space to just listen
a friend asks a question, pause, let them speak without jumping in to relate
questions are asked at work (or in class,) listen without expressive body language
you are struggling, take a breath and ask yourself what you need right now
That’s the power of presence and compassion. For others and yourself.
Every voice deserves your attention. Especially your own.