3 Active Listening Tips I've Learned as a Parent

There is nothing like being a parent to push you out of your comfort zone and hit you with life lessons you may or may not have been prepared to learn.

This was true last week. The lesson I was learning (repeatedly) was the importance of fully listening without trying to fix or solve a problem. Listening to hear what the other person is saying.

While that may sound simple, it isn’t. Many of us struggle with active listening as we are so used to passive listening (waiting for a moment to talk versus truly hearing what the other person is saying).

My learnings came from my role as mom. My daughter was struggling with girl drama at school (you parents know what I mean). It shook her to the core, hurting her deeply.

As she told me her story (between tears) it was obvious that she felt no one was listening to her. Not being heard was the root cause of her distress. So I put aside work and supper, and spent time actively listening to her.

Here are some aha moments from my days (yes it was more than one) spent fine-tuning my active listening skills.

1. Be comfortable with silence

As an extrovert listening to an introvert tell her story, my first learning was to not fill the silence with words. The silence was not an invitation for me to talk. Rather the silence was the space she needed to collect her thoughts, process information and self reflect. These are key elements of her communication style. To speak during these silences would break the conversation, not move it forward.

2. Go beyond the words

With over 80% of communications being non-verbal, my daughter’s body language told me more than the words she was saying. As she spoke, she assumed the position of a turtle retreating into its shell. Her back was hunched over, her arms hugging her legs close to her chest.

While this is an obvious body language cue, it’s a reminder of what can be learned by not only listening to what the person is saying but also how their body language is or is not aligned with those words. Do they have open body language (arms at their side, facing you heart to heart, making eye contact) or closed body language (arms crossed, looking away, fidgeting with their hair or clothing)? Paying attention to these cues will allow you to listen to what being said, and more importantly, what’s not being said. 

3. It’s not about you

Active listening is about fully hearing the other person. It’s that simple.

To be an active listener you need to be present. In my conversation with my daughter, I didn’t give her advice or tell her to stop being sensitive. These comments wouldn’t have helped her (as her body language was saying she wouldn’t hear me anyways).

Rather, I told her repeatedly – I hear you. Each time looking her in the eye.

As the days went by, and her stress and anxiety over the conflict lessened, she opened up space to talk about the conflict and hear my stories about a bully from my childhood. We also watched some videos on being an empath, helping her understand that she’s not too sensitive, but rather this is how she receives information.

Practice makes perfect

Over the next week I invite you to practice some active listening skills – in your professional or personal life. When you catch your mind looking for ways to insert yourself in the conversation, take a deep breath. Ask yourself – are you truly listening to the other person or just waiting to talk?

How does using active listening skills change the conversation as well as your relationships? And remember that by being comfortable with the silence we give the other person space to finish their thoughts or reflect on what was said.

If you want to learn more about active listening, check out my How to Be An Active Listener training video. It will outlines more ways to go from being a passive to active listener, while giving you the tools and confidence you need to change the conversation.