Getty Images: Concept illustration of a dialog between man and woman, and the thinking processes in their heads

Communication can be a challenge.  Words, tone of voice, eye contact, and body language all work together to convey specific messages.  What people often forget is that listening is just as critical for healthy communication.  Stephen R. Covey, author of the popular book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change”, tells us that, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

How would our relationships be different if we took the time to listen?  We’re not talking about surface listening, the kind of listening that feels like, “Yeah, yeah, get on with it”, but true, non-judgmental, thoughtful, and engaged listening.  What would we hear?    What if we listened beyond words and worked to understand behavior?

I often hear adolescents expressing their frustration that it feels like, “Nobody listens to me!”  Rather than being quick to brush this off as an adolescent tantrum, maybe we can take stock and listen beyond those words.  All of us have probably felt unheard at some point in our lives.  What can we do to not just make it look like we’re listening, but prove that we actually are listening?

  1. Put down whatever electronic device is in your hand.  Whether it’s a phone, a game controller, a tablet, whatever it is, put it down.  Better yet, put it away or leave it in another room.  Without electronic distractions, you can focus your energy and attention on the person in front of you.
  2. Ask questions.  By following what the other person is saying and responding with questions to get more information, you’re conveying that what the person is saying is important to you and that you want to understand what it is that’s being communicated to you.
  3. Be mindful of body language.  Crossing your arms or turning away is a clear indicator that you may not be listening, or even worse, can convey the message that you don’t care what the other person is saying.  Instead, try to smile, maintain good eye contact (but don’t be creepy and stare!), and offer some positive, non-verbal validation like nodding your head.
  4. Hold off any preconceived notions or ideas you may have and let the other person finish his/her thoughts.  Remember, the goal of listening isn’t to reply!
  5. Pay attention to the speaker’s body language.  This can give you insight into any meaning behind what the person is saying and what he or she is actually trying to convey.

Small changes can go a long way in improving overall communication, whether you’re an adult or adolescent, a teacher or student, a parent or child.  Let’s say what we mean, mean what we say, and really listen to each other!