Listening With Intention
Although I’ve spent much of my life thinking about and working with and for children, I occasionally fail to use what I know. For example, I understand the value a child experiences when adults listen carefully. How frustrated I get with myself when I forget. Active listening is the focus of today’s blog. The ideas shared in this article come from Dr. Thomas Gordon.
Dr. Gordon was a clinical psychologist who focused primarily on communication and conflict resolution. His books for parents and teachers contain strategies that promote clarity. One concept, called active listening, involves a specific way to listen and respond to others.
In active listening, your goals are to engage the following ideas:
Let the child know you are listening and understanding.
Let the child know you care.
Allow the child to express negative emotions.
Encourage the child to participate in solving the problem (with support from you).
As the adult listener, avoid agreeing or arguing. In order for active listening to work, you must be willing to: listen (even if the child’s words are painful to hear), take the time to focus, and believe the child is capable of solving his or her problem. The steps, which you will find below, are simple to understand; challenging to apply.
The first step is to give feedback to the child. In doing so, you are checking your own understanding by restating the message back to the child. Consider the examples below.
“What I heard you say was that . . .”
“Let me be sure I understand. You are telling me that . . .”
“You just told me that you feel . . .”
“You seem to be feeling . . .”
Regardless of the words you choose, wait for a response from the child. By restating the message, the child has the opportunity to confirm or clarify.
The second step is to use a “door opener” to encourage additional communication from the child. You are assuring the child that you are willing to listen. Examples are below.
“Tell me more about this.”
“I have time to listen.” (If you do not have time, be honest and set another time to complete the conversation.) You might say, “I don’t have time to really focus right now but I care very much. Let’s get together at lunch and finish talking.”
Sometimes you encourage communication with a nod, a gesture, or a pause. If you are sincere about wanting to listen, the child will feel your intention.
After you have listened and provided feedback thoroughly enough that the child has fully expressed feelings, move into the final step, which is to encourage the child to problem-solve. Although you will help, the problem belongs to the child. It is not yours to solve and in most cases you will not be able to fix the situation.
Guide the child by asking the following types of questions:
“What would you like for me to do?”
“What would you like to change in the situation? How might you start the change?
“Is there anything you could do differently to solve this?”
“What can you do to help yourself feel better?”
You can even ask, “May I make a suggestion?”
In closing, consider the following personal example. Ben, a child in my classroom told me that he hated his dad. I knew Ben’s father well and felt certain that Ben was overreacting. In fact, I was tempted to argue with Ben. Instead, I used active listening.
Feedback to Ben: “You are really angry and upset.”
Door Opener: “I understand. Keep talking.”
Problem Solving: “What could you do to feel better? What would you like for your dad to do? Can you suggest this to him?”
I hope you enjoy listening actively and attentively.
Frandsen, Barbara. Teaching Responsible Behaviors. Austin, Texas: Entercate, Inc., (2012 revised).
Gordon, Thomas. “Active Listening in Origins of the Gordon Model.” Gordon Training International, (2015). Found at http://www.gordontraining.com/thomas-gordon/origins-of-the-gordon-model/
Gordon, T. P.E.T. Parent Effectiveness Training. NY: A Plume Book New American Library, 1975.