I have learned so many life lessons from my children, I’ve decided to start a new category for my blogs: “Hey, Mama- You’ve Got A Lot to Learn!” So, this is the first entry to that category.
Today’s lesson: Listening.
I am a nurse practitioner, and one thing I do a lot of is listening. Patients come in to tell me their complaints, and I’ve noticed that everyone has a different style. Some patients lay it all out on the line for you. Some give the essential details, but not much more. Some come in and say, “I don’t know. I’m just sick.” One talent I’m having to develop is listening. I don’t mean your run-of-the-mill, smile and nod kind of listening. I mean the picking up on subtle cues, paying attention to facial expressions, hearing what you’re saying plus reading-between-the-lines kind of listening. I do it all day, every day, from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Friday, and that’s not counting the days I don’t actually leave on time. I am getting pretty good at listening at work. What I have to work on is listening at home and elsewhere. My precious three-year-old son, Coell, reminded me of just that today.
I picked him up from daycare, and, as usual, he proceeds to tell me about his day on the ride home. The great thing about three-year-olds is that they have no filters yet. They haven’t determined what is appropriate to say out loud and what should just remain a private thought. If he thinks it, he says it. Usually, this makes for very interesting, often confusing, conversation. Today, however, I had a rather mentally exhausting day at work, and I wasn’t listening whole-heartedly to my sweet boy. I would answer his questions with a neutral, “Hmmm, I don’t know. Maybe,” or throw in the occasional “Mmmhmmm,” in response to a statement he’d made. Another amazing thing about three-year-olds is their sense of perception. Coell is extremely observant. Evidently, I was going over a patient encounter I’d had today in my head instead of paying attention to him, because I was snapped back to attention with, “Mama. MAMA! You LISTEN when I’m talkin’ to you , Mama!”
I immediately felt guilty. First of all, I am so blessed to have this beautiful, healthy, intelligent little boy, and I’m not even listening to the story he was telling me. Second of all, he noticed. Thirdly, I was not being a good example for the little fellow. Good listening, believe it or not, is a Biblical concept.
James 1:19 says, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.”
Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
I want my son to be a good listener when his future wife comes to him to tell him about her day. I want him to actually hear her when she addresses a concern to him about their marriage. I want him to listen to her when she is seeking his advice. I don’t want him to pay her lip service and appease her by doing the old smile ‘n nod routine.
I want my son to be a good listener when his employer tells him how he can improve his work.
I want him to be a good listener when he has a friend in need of an ear and a shoulder.
And when his teachers help him with his math, I want him to listen to them.
When he’s choosing who to vote for in the presidential election, I want him to listen, really listen, for cues that would indicate the most Godly leader.
I want Coell to listen to us, as his parents, when we are punishing him, when we praise him, and when we tell him we love him.
I want him to put his whole heart into listening to the preachers and Bible school teachers who are helping direct his soul to Heaven.
If I want my son to be a good listener, I have to be a good listener.
Having witnessed countless interactions between doctors and patients, between family members and friends, I have noted some qualities of a good listener that I hope to pass along to my children.
- Good listeners don’t interrupt. They politely wait until the other party is finished speaking, sometimes even leaving a half a moment of silence just before responding.
- Good listeners make eye contact often. They don’t creepily stare a hole through the other party, but they make an effort to acknowledge, through eye contact, that the person has their full attention.
- Good listeners don’t always respond with advice. Sometimes people don’t need advice. Sometimes they just needed someone to talk to that would hear what they had to say.
- Good listeners sometimes repeat what is said. There are times when it is necessary to repeat, maybe summarized, what has been said to you. For example, “I’m very upset because my father just passed away.” Response: “I can understand how you would be upset. I’m so sorry.” It’s called “restating”. It offers some confirmation that you heard what they just told you.
- Good listeners are empathetic, but don’t always need to say “I know how you feel.” Taking the above example, “I’m very upset because my father just passed away.” The response could be, “I’m not even going to pretend to know how you feel, because I haven’t lost my father, but I can certainly understand how you could be upset. I’m so sorry.” Sometimes acknowledging that their pain is unique to them helps build a connection between you that didn’t exist before.
- Good listeners understand boundaries, but aren’t afraid to hug if needed. Sometimes, words do not suffice. Physical touch speaks volumes, even in a pat on the back for encouragement or a squeeze of the hand to say “I’m here for you.”
So, thanks to my son, I once again found an opportunity for personal growth. My husband and children need me to listen just as much as my patients do, and even more.