Last night I called a friend for advice. One of my adult kids had made a remark about their growing up years that left me feeling like I had been a less than perfect mother, and my feelings were hurt. Believe me, I was, and am and always will be a ‘less than perfect mother’.
“How did that make you feel when s/he said that?” my friend asked. She listened, asked more questions. “What lies am I believing”? I asked her. She didn’t try to solve my problem. She was just curious. I began to realize that I needed to go back to that child and ask more questions. I now had the courage and comfort to do it. And I could do it matter- of- factly, rather than with a “poochy lip”.
I count among my closest friends those who are good listeners. When I talk to them, they give me their full attention and think deeply about my problem. They listen not only to what I am saying, but to the feelings I am experiencing. They ask questions, respond with empathy, recap. They respond to what I am feeling, their soothing words resonating emphatically. They imagine what it’s like for me. I feel heard, understood and valued. There is healing in that. Dr Savage tells us that “life is a meat grinder, an Arab funeral with all the tears”. So we all need someone who we can pour out our feelings to without fear of being rejected or judged. By the time you open your heart to them, you already know what to do. Effective listeners help us come up with our own answers because they accept us and free us to listen to our own hearts and heads. The goal is not to solve our problems, yet it brings about change in us and our basic values. When we are listened to sensitively, we become more emotionally mature, less authoritarian and less defensive. We listen to ourselves more carefully to see what we are actually thinking and feeling. Listening builds deep, positive relationships and growth, even in the listener.
In our Caring Nannies office, we sometimes see relationships fail, and very often it is because of a failure in communication. A resentment will build up, nothing is mentioned, then, tempers can flare, burnout increases. We may say that we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, but we are hurting the relationship. We feel awkward or uncomfortable discussing what is on our mind. Those things that really bother us that we are reluctant to discuss are usually the things that really need to be communicated for the sake of the relationship. Our most basic need in life is for relationships, and relationships are the source of the most enjoyment in our lives as well as the source of the most pain and frustration. However, to speak from love, anyone wishing to encourage must be willing to endure what they fear—the loss of relationship with others.
I was deeply impacted by how quickly I felt empowered by my short phone call last Sunday night, so I did some research on listening. I feel determined to make this a part of my life, because I want to encourage those around me. It is difficult, because I am basically selfish and really only want to talk about me. It takes courage to get past my own fear and reach out to the fear in another. We have also highlighted this in our Nanny Boot Camps.
The end result of effective listening is encouragement—hope that solutions exist for every problem and that life does make sense. Hope stirs people to greater love and more good deeds and perseverance. Encouragement is not a technique to be mastered; it is a sensitivity to people and awareness of their value.
Listening behavior is contagious. As we know, anger is met with anger, argument with argument, smile with smile. My experience with my friend makes me want to learn to be an encourager, with adults as well as the children in my life.
And what was the lie I was believing? Probably that in order to be valuable, I need to be a perfect Mom. Could LOVE be spelled TIME? I think so. The very act of listening well communicates that I am valuable, so I will say no to the lie, and accept the value my friend placed on me.