I benefited immensely from writing my first post last week and hopefully you took something away from reading it. Today I want to write about recent experiences communicating with my son.
When I was at primary school my teachers said I was talkative in class and needed to pipe down. When I think about that now, I find it hard to believe as I don’t see myself as someone who talks a lot. Which makes me wonder, why don’t I like to talk but encourage others to talk? I often let others do the talking and I’m happy to listen, although some of my friends might not agree with this! While this is not a bad trait to have, I feel it is important to get the balance of listening and talking right.
We often hear how important it is to talk, but it’s not always easy, whatever age or gender we are. Talking exposes us as well as making us vulnerable, possibly opening ourselves up to judgement from others and criticism. Once we put something out there, we can’t take it back. We worry that we don’t want to ‘burden’ family and friends with our troubles and prefer to keep them to ourselves, though we know these problems should not be a burden to our loved ones. Even talking about joy can be tricky when we are worried about sharing our joy or good news when someone else is going through a difficult time, it can feel selfish and inappropriate.
This post is about encouraging an environment to talk and the importance of effective listening.
I thought about writing this piece because of my own experiences of having chats with my teenage son. I think this is important because I didn’t set out to create an environment to chat with him, but I took the opportunity that seems to have spontaneously occurred.
There is a view that teenagers don’t talk a lot and certainly not with their parents so I do appreciate that this may be slightly unusual and that’s why for me it was so important to seize the moment. My son usually hangs out in the kitchen in the evening whilst I am preparing dinner, perhaps hinting that he is hungry and I should be quicker to serve it. Nonetheless we chat. The conversation often starts with something that happened in the day or something happening in current affairs, which usually leads to a strong expression of views and feelings about the topic being discussed. I noticed a pattern emerging and this now happens most evenings. I learn a lot from him. I realised that this boy, who used to hang on to my every word and believed pretty much everything I told him, now has his own views and opinions. He doesn’t hesitate in challenging me or researching to clarify facts. I soon learned that I had to be respectful and an effective listener in order for us to both benefit, more importantly for him to learn that his thoughts and view are important, giving him confidence to express himself.
This daily exercise has taught me a lot; the importance of listening – properly listening and not interrupting. Respecting the views of others especially when they differ from yours. The ability to detect mood so that one adapts their interaction to suit the mood. When someone is feeling happy they may be more chatty and animated. When they are feeling a bit low, you may have to work harder or just listen and be comfortable in those silent moments because just being there is important. The importance of asking questions to further develop the conversation and gain a more rounded understanding of the persons point of view.
Whether you like to talk or listen, try and do both for they are equally important and when you next ask someone how they are or what they did at the weekend, ask them from your heart. Listening is powerful, don’t just hear, listen, pay attention, give people room to talk, avoid interrupting them. When you speak, don’t be afraid to pause and reflect. Be confident in expressing yourself even when you know you are conveying a difference in opinion. I apply these principles in my every day life, skills I learnt from my son.
I’d like to dedicate this article to my son Christian. “You are such a delight to chat with, such strong, mature views on all topics, and always capable of getting your point across. I love you”