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Listening: Seven Tools For Doing It Well

Listening involves more than you think! It takes work, focus, time, and energy. Are you up for the task? How important is it really? Learn seven critical tools for good listening!

Here is a scenario I see play out in my office over and over again: one spouse wishes the other would speak up more. They are frustrated thinking that the other doesn’t really care to make the relationship work because they won’t talk. I have seen wives who wish their husbands would talk more and husbands who wished the same of their wives. I have seen parents who wish their teens would talk more or team leaders who are frustrated because they can only get a few of their group members to share their ideas. What’s wrong? Why does this happen?

I can tell you one of THE biggest factors has to do with listening.

I shared a PLEDGEtalk Facebook post this week, that said: “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters. Think about it.”

The person in front of you–whether it is your spouse, your daughter, or the team–won’t believe you are ready and willing to listen unless you are silent.

That means:

  1. you are looking intently at them.
  2. you will be sure not to have a frown on your face but an expression that portrays the idea that you care what they have to say.
  3. you will be patient, for as long as it takes for them to gather their thoughts. And when they do begin talking, you will do everything you can to make sure you don’t interrupt or interject. Instead, you will work hard to stay focused on each word and sentence that comes out of their mouth.
  4. you will wonder and maybe ask why they chose the words they did to describe how they are feeling or to explain their perspective on a matter.
  5. you will be intrigued with what they are saying while at the same time actively putting your own thoughts and reactions up on a shelf in your mind. Note I did not say put them under a rug to be buried, but up on a shelf for later. Your ideas, your reactions can’t be your focus–not if you are listening. Makes sense?
  6. you will keep working at putting your reactions on the shelf while staying SILENT and listening.
  7. And the only time you will speak is for the purpose of clarifying what the other has said or echoing back to make sure you heard correctly.

THAT is real listening!

When a person finally gets the experience of someone genuinely listening, they believe they matter and find their voice!

Now a few words of caution:

  • You may try using the seven tools above and not see the same intended results as I get. Don’t despair or give up. Remember I have been doing this for years as my profession! Go back through the list above to see if you missed anything and keep working at it. It also might take the quiet person awhile to believe that you really are sincere.
  • You may use any or all of the above tools and see quick results. Beware. If these tools are not already part of who you are, you will quickly forget them, fall into old patterns, and watch the person in front of you once again fade away into silence. If this happens, take note, admit what you just did (i.e. interrupted, or reacted, or grew impatient, etc.) and ask them if they would continue to share while you work once again at listening well.
  • You may grow weary or discouraged when you see how much work it takes to really listen well. You may even be tempted to think “if I have to go through all of that and more just to find out what another person is thinking, it’s not worth it. What they have to say must not be all that important.” You couldn’t be farther from the truth. Rather, they are like a mine full of precious jewels just waiting to be discovered!

Most of the breakthroughs I see in my office between spouses, or between parents and a child come when they learn to really listen. When truly listening, we give the gift of being heard. It’s when tears are most apt to appear, and real connection begins!

Think of the last time you felt really heard by someone. What was it they did to make you feel that way?  Let me know below!! I always appreciate your comments–it is encouraging to me as I feel like I am being heard!  :)

(Thanks to www.123rf.com for picture: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_iqoncept’>iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo</a>)

Change? Here Is A Simple Plan

Yesterday, my 82 year old Dad asked me about my goals for the new year. Then he told me of an area in his life he hopes to change in 2018. I have great respect for him that at his age, he still has personal plans for self-improvement! I hope I have that same mindset when I am in my 80’s.

What about you and I for this coming year?

You have probably heard it said:  “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

That quote is supposedly from Benjamin Franklin, along with the following story.  At one point Benjamin became painfully aware that people didn’t like being around him. In fact, they would cross over to the other side of a muddy street to avoid him. Soon thereafter, he chose 13 characteristics about himself that he didn’t like and set out to change them. He chose one characteristic each week for 13 weeks to work on changing. At the end of the 13 weeks, he started over doing the same. No doubt, Benjamin’s plan for self-improvement, was the critical element in him becoming a better version of himself.

We have probably all made resolutions at the beginning of a new year–or any time during the year for that matter–that we haven’t kept. That doesn’t mean we should stop making efforts to change. Again remember Benjamin Franklin:  “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

I am writing this blog post, because I have made a plan to do more writing this year. Without that plan, you would not be reading this.

Whatever you think about New Year’s Resolutions, let me encourage you to do this:

Pick one area of personal change–just one–to focus on. Then make a plan to bring about that change. That might involve learning about that area, telling one person or several about your plan, and asking them to encourage you to keep up the effort. It will no doubt take work and persistence. You will likely fail, more often than not especially at first. But if you don’t give up, and stick with your plan, your chances of seeing real change are very high.

Now, being a marriage and family counselor and coach, may I suggest a few change options to consider for those of you who are married?

First, reading or listening to a book together can be very helpful. One important element to bring about change in any area of life is to gain new insights from others.  Here are three books I am currently recommending:

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John M. Gottman.  One reviewer said this about Gottman’s book:  “Read this book just when I was about to give up on my marriage. It turns out that there have been so many things I took for granted and this book helped me realize exactly what my husband and I have been doing right, what we’ve been doing wrong and what else we can do to strengthen the bond. This saved me from so much marital grief and frustration.”

Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage, by Gary Thomas. One reviewer said this:  “Whether you are a newlywed or married 20 years plus, this is a great book to spice up the romance & intimacy in your marriage. It’s funny how that works. As you begin to Cherish your spouse and honor them when they are present or not, they begin to change toward you. The smiles are more genuine and they feel truly LOVED and Cherished.”

The PLEDGE of a Lifetime: Her Hope For Connection. His Guide Through Conflict, by yours truly. Here’s what Traci B said about my book:  “I am excited to implement PLEDGEtalk in everyday conversation with my husband, and someday with our children, to create a home where people feel understood, validated, and genuinely loved.”

I also HIGHLY suggest you plan on attending a conference this year where you learn firsthand from others how to improve your marriage. I am a big believer in the weekend getaway marriage conference entitled:  A WEEKEND TO REMEMBER. You can find all the information you need about attending this HERE. There are many dates and locations throughout the year for couples to attend. Sign up using my code:  “madly in love” and my Name:  Mark Oelze to get $100 off the price. And for every five couples using my code, I get to send someone who can’t afford to go FREE! My wife and I attended this conference a couple years ago and really appreciated it!

Now I know that some of you are thinking: how do I get my spouse to agree to work on our marriage or attend a conference so that we might see real change? Ask him or her to call or email me and I will show them how to save $10,000 (plus) by working on your marriage! (Seriously!)

Zerrin and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary December 19th.

Check out our PLEDGEtalk Facebook page HERE to see what our kids gave us for our anniversary. We plan to be in this for as long as we both shall live. Over the course of our marriage, Zerrin and I have attended at least 10 different marriage conferences, read at least 30+ books on marriage, and have spent countless walks and talks working on our marriage. And I know there is still MORE to learn in order to change!

So two questions as we begin 2018: what area of your life are you going to focus on this year to change and become a better version of yourself? And what is your plan?

I’d love to hear from you below!