The Gift of Listening


By Deborah Pinkston, Ph.D.

After the holidays we get busy returning gifts that either don’t fit, we don’t need them, or they are just not “us”.  One gift we can give that will always be cherished is the gift of listening.  We can give the wonderful gift of listening to our children, spouse, parents, friends, and coworkers.
Why is listening such a treasured gift?  Many people seek counseling because they need someone to listen with undivided attention.  Most couples feel unheard and misunderstood.  Teens feel that their parents don’t hear them.  The foundation of counseling is listening to the client and helping clients learn to listen to each other effectively.  Couples learn to listen to each other’s heart.  Once the heart is heard and understood, healing can take place and new ways of relating can be learned.  When you listen to someone’s heart, you create pathways of openness and healing.
When our kids need to talk sometimes we have “more important” things going on.  Listening is a gift to a child, a teen or young adult.  Opportunities to listen are gold nuggets that can only be cherished in the moment.  Shut the laptop, put down the book, turn off the cell phone and just listen.  When your child is finished (or comes up for air), ask him/her to tell you more, how they feel about what they have just told you or what you can do to help.  Then listen some more!
When listening truly happens, understanding and intimacy are increased, conflict is reduced, and relationships are strengthened.
Here are some helpful tips for effective listening:
-Face the speaker and look them in the eyes.
-Reduce external distractions such as the television, computer or cell phone.
-Reduce internal distractions.  Whatever is on your mind; put it on “hold” for a while.
-Refrain from formulating an opinion or an immediate answer. Just listen and seek to understand.
-Ask open questions that will encourage the speaker to elaborate, such as “What was that like for you?” or “What do you think you could do about that?”
As you give the precious gift of listening, your loved ones will feel valued and understood.  Your child’s self-esteem will grow.  You and your spouse will feel more connected.  Your coworker will feel respected.  Listening is the gift that will never be too big or small, never unappreciated, and will strengthen the relationships with those you care about the most.