Tag Archive for listening

A Few Random Thoughts About Marital Conflict

There’s a New Yorker Cartoon in which a couple is arguing. One says to the other, “I can’t remember what we’re arguing about, either. Let’s keep yelling, and maybe it will come back to us.”  I chuckled when I saw that cartoon. It’s true. Many couples do not remember what they are fighting about. They remember the emotion, the hurtful words, the dirty looks…but they don’t recall the reason for the argument. They might continue yelling, but they still don’t remember what started the argument. So why blow up over a topic that you may not even remember tomorrow? Avoid the hurtful words, the dirty looks, the angry comebacks…your spouse will remember them and the damage they have on your relationship is huge. Instead, listen, understand, and bless. That will give you something better to remember and will even change quite a few arguments!

Sincere apologies work miracles. It’s true. But, a sincere apology is more than mere words. A sincere apology reveals genuine remorse for what was done and how it impacted the other person. A sincere apology accepts responsibility for the actions that caused the hurt and a sincere apology reassures the other of your love for them. A sincere apology involves the “fruit of repentance” as well, actions that replace the hurtful action and assure it does not happen again. A sincere apology requires humility, responsibility, and change. It’s well worth it though. A sincere apology not only restores relationship, it strengthens relationship. Sincere apologies work miracles. (Read The Top 6 Components of an Effective Apology for more.)

Time out is not just for the kids. Sometimes, couples need a “time out” to cool down. They need to stop the argument for a short time (20 minutes at least), “go to their respective corners,” and calm down. Calming down will require each one to put their mind on a topic other than the one they were fighting about. You can go for a walk, play a game, read a good story, watch a comedy, skim through magazines…whatever it takes to help you put the topic of the argument out of your mind long enough to “calm down.”  After emotions have cooled, come back together over a cup of hot cocoa and cookies (or some equivalent) to talk about the problem that caused the argument. You’ll likely find it isn’t really the big deal it had become prior to your “time out.” In a calm state, you will more easily resolve the differences or simply “agree to disagree.” It all begins with a “time out” to calm down.

One last thought. If you want to resolve an argument more quickly and calmly stop trying to figure out how your spouse has it all wrong. Instead, figure out what your spouse has right. Every perspective has some validity. Find your spouse’s valid point of view. Listen to the emotion and the priority behind your spouse’s perspective. What emotions, priorities, or concerns are driving their passion. Acknowledge their emotion. Accept their priority. Recognize areas in which you can agree with them. Then, build your solution from there. (Turn Your Argument Into the Best Part of the Day provides more tips for resolving arguments in a healthy way.)

 

*Cartoon downloaded from <https://www.art.com/products/p15063422260-sa-i6846321/david-sipress-i-can-t-remember-what-we-re-arguing-about-either-let-s-keep-yelling-an-new-yorker-cartoon.htm?RFID=765957>

Communicating As An “Us”

The party was long and I was getting tired; but, I didn’t want to rudely get up and leave. My wife was across the room enjoying a conversation with another guest. When I looked her way, she caught my eye. She made a very subtle motion with her head and changed the expression on her face ever so slightly for a brief second. Then she returned to her conversation. I knew exactly what she had said. I walked over to the table where I could get a drink and carried it over to her. I handed her the drink and said, “Thirsty?” She nodded and took the drink. “Getting kind of late. I’m tired. Are you ready to leave?” A look of relief spread across her face. “Yes,” she replied, “I’m tired too.”  We quickly said our good-byes and headed home. She thanked me for “hearing” her request from across the room and added, “I thought I saw the same in your face.”

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience in your marriage. The experience of working as a team, of remaining attuned and attentive to one another in a way no one else is. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to learn this crucial skill for a happy marriage. It’s a skill developed and practiced every day in a healthy marriage. Here are some tips to help you get started…or to get even better at it than you already are.

  • Get curious about your spouse. Follow their lead. Learn what they like and don’t like. Learn about their dreams and their fears. Never stop learning. Your spouse will offer new things to learn every day. Get curious and enjoy learning about your spouse. (Develop a “Love Map” with these questions.)
  • Be open & transparent in speaking about what impacts you and how. Talk about your opinions and your feelings. It’s ok to differ in opinion so allow your spouse to know your thoughts.
  • Learn to listen intently—not just for words but for inflection, tone, and cadence as well. Not just with ears but with eyes & touch as well. Listen intently. (Learn the The Gracious Art of Listening.)
  • Turn toward your spouse to work together. Problem solve together. Make compromises. Look for win/win solutions. Function as a team. (RSVP for Intimacy can help you do so.)
  • Develop an identity as a couple. Consider what you like to do together? How do you fit into world as couple? How do you balance couple time with individual time & identity? How can you create overlap? To help you do this, take time to develop a couple’s mission statement. (Include these 6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage in your mission statement.)

Want to have a better relationship, a happier marriage? Begin to practice by communicating a sense of “us” by practicing these tips. Go ahead and get started. You’ll have fun and grow a more intimate relationship along the way!

5 Strategies to Get Your Children to Listen

Children are an enigma to me, a puzzle.  They hear everything…except when you ask them to do something. Swear one time in front of them and they repeat it for weeks at the most inopportune moments…but they still forget to say “thank you” and “please” after a gazillion reminders. They can remember every single one of the countless Pokémon characters in existence, even spouting off each one’s strengths, weaknesses, and evolutions (I’m not even sure I said that correctly)…but they can’t remember to make their bed and brush their teeth. I can’t say I ever figured out this puzzle, but I have learned a few hints to increase the chances that your children will listen to you when you give them a directive.

  • First, grab their attention. Gain eye contact with your children before giving them a task. This may mean interrupting their current activity for a moment so you can obtain face-to-face, eye-to-eye recognition. Speak directly to them. You’ve seen your children do it to you. When they want to tell you something or show you something, they repeat your “name” until you turn to look at them. They tap your arm and leg and side until you look at them. They might even grab your chin and turn your face to look at them. Take a hint from your children. Grab their attention before giving them a task.
  • Second, make it fun. Clown around a little bit. I remember my children’s allergist. He always found Donald Duck in my daughters’ ears and Bugs Bunny in their other ear.  He found amazing characters in their eyes and throat. They couldn’t wait to see him and find out which ear Donald Duck would reside in today. They never fought his ear, nose, and throat inspections. Why? Because he added fun to it. Be creative and make your children’s chores fun. Sing while you set the table. Tell stories while you make the bed. Make dinosaur noises while you walk to school. Whatever your children love, use it to create some fun.
  • Third, don’t ask, tell. When children are young they do not understand that a polite question such as “Would you please set the table?” is a directive. If you want them to set the table, make it a polite directive: “Set the table, please.” Once again, you will see this when your children interact with other children. Young children rarely say things like, “Would you please pass me that Lego when you get a chance?” They use a much more directive approach. They say, “I want that one” or “Give me the blue one.” They are not necessarily rude, just direct. They understand direct. They do not yet understand the nuances of indirect requests. So, if you want your children to do something, tell them politely but directly.
  • Fourth, slow it down. Be patient. Give them a chance to respond. Children need time to process your request, give them time to do so. If you jump in too quickly, you have just given them an “out.” You have changed the focus from your directive to your impatience. They can’t focus on both. Until their preteen years, they can only focus on one thing at a time and that is generally the immediate or the one with greatest intensity. So, if you jump in with an impatient remark, they will forget the directive and focus on your impatient remark. They find it difficult to keep both in mind. Slow down, be patient, and wait. Give them a chance to respond. If they do not respond, grab their attention again and repeat the directive.
  • Finally, give them appropriate choices. Let them begin to make choices from an early age. Do they want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today? Should we read then take a bath, take a bath before reading, or read one book before the bath and one book after the bath? Let them choose. Agree on their choice and carry it out. You might be surprised at how well they remember their choice. And, doing this increases their independence over time.

Five practices that will help your children listen well. They will still prove to be an enigma. You’ll still discover those astounding paradoxes that shock you…like their ability to make the most profound, insightful comment just before talking about the Tooth Fairy’s lack of generosity. But hey, at least they’ll listen a little better.

Motivating Our Children

Have you ever wondered how to motivate your children? They could have better grades but they just don’t hand in their homework or study? They could accomplish so much more but they just seem to “lack motivation”? Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study that might just help. In a series of three studies, they explored how positive relationships impact motivation. They discovered that even a brief reminder of a “supportive other” increases motivation for personal growth, even in the face of challenges. The participants who reported actually having supportive relationships showed a greater willingness to accept challenges that promoted personal growth. They also reported feeling more self-confidence (Read For a better ‘I,’ there needs to be a supportive ‘we’ for more on the study). In terms of parenting, having a supportive relationship with your children will help increase our children’s motivation. I’m not suggesting that a supportive relationship will end all motivational woes. It will not result in your children suddenly becoming perfectly motivated to complete every chore and homework assignment given.  However, a positive supportive, relationship with your children will increase their motivation. A positive, supportive relationship with your children will increase the chances of them doing the chores more readily and even completing their homework. The question is: How do we develop and communicate a positive, supportive relationship with our children? I’m glad you (well…I) asked.

  1. Remain available. Our children know we are available when we engage them regularly. We communicate our availability by remaining open to interactions with them, putting aside our own agenda and responding to their direct, indirect, or even awkward attempts to engage us. Let your actions express your belief that being available to your children is more important than the game, your book, the paperwork, or whatever other distraction might pull you away from your children in the moment.
  2. Accept your children. Our children feel supported when they know we accept them whether they succeed or fail, experience joys or fears. They know we accept them when we acknowledge rather than criticize their efforts. They know we accept them when we acknowledge and allow for differences in taste and preferences. And, knowing they find acceptance in us they feel supported by us.
  3. Listen. Our children feel supported when they feel heard. This requires us to listen beyond mere words. We must listen with our ears to hear the words, our mind to understand their intent, and our hearts to understand their emotions. Then, our actions need to communicate our willingness to let their ideas and beliefs influence us. When we listen in this manner, our children know they have found acceptance and a supportive parent.
  4. Encourage. We communicate support through sincere encouragement. Sincere encouragement does not offer false praise. Our children abhor false praise. Nor does sincere encouragement manipulate. It is not offered to push our children in a particular direction or toward some action. Instead, we encourage our children by recognizing their inner dream and promoting it. We encourage them by acknowledging their effort and resulting progress.
  5. Offer honest, gentle correction. Children recognize honest, gentle correction as supportive. They benefit from a supportive parent who lovingly “nudges” them to grow, mature, and become a person of honor. Honest, gentle correction avoids screaming, name-calling, and belittling comments. Instead, it offers clear limits, consistent consequences, and loving correction. Gentle correction teaches from a foundation of love, communicating a value in our children.

These five actions can help our children feel supported. This will translate into a healthier sense of self-confidence and greater motivation to engage in behaviors that promote their own positive growth.

Down the Rabbit Hole of Cooperation

Sometimes I am impressed and amazed by the simplest things. For instance, a study on children swinging together recently sent me on a journey down the rabbit hole of cooperation. Let me explain. The University of Washington released a study in which they randomly assigned pairs of four-year-old children (who did not know one another) into one of three groups: in the first group pairs swung in synchrony with one another, in the second group pairs swung “out of synch” with each other, or in the third they didn’t even get to swing (I don’t want to be in that group!). Then, the four-year-old children engaged in a series of tasks to evaluate cooperation. The swinging four-year-olds who swung in synchrony cooperated more than those who swung “out of synch” and those who didn’t swing at all. They “strategized” more often, communicated more effectively, and completed the tasks more quickly. (Read about the study here). With this simple study I embarked on a brief journey down a rabbit hole in search of more information on influencing cooperation. I found:

  1. Joint music-making leads to spontaneous cooperation and increased “helping” behaviors. (Read more here).
  2. Moving in synchrony with an experimenter led infants to be more cooperative with that experimenter (Read more here).

My run down the rabbit hole continued, but you get the idea: engaging in synchronous behavior (moving together, making music together) leads to greater cooperation. So, do you want more cooperative children? Swing in synchrony with them. Dance together. Go for a walk and walk the same cadence…”left, right, left, right, left.” Sing together—the same song in the same key of course. Have fun…together…at the same pace. The result? Children who are more likely to cooperate with you! Now that is worth the fun!

“One Plus Eleven” Ways to Improve Your Family Life

Do you want to decrease arguing and conflict in your family? How about increasing intimacy? Would you like to increase the amount of influence you have with your spouse and children? Here is a single action that can do all that and more: listen! That’s right. listen1Listening to your spouse and children will decrease arguing, increase intimacy, and increase your influence. But, to get the benefits you have to “really” listen, not just “fake it.” You can tell the difference between “faking it” and “really” listening with these eleven tips.

  • You know you’re “faking it” when you are thinking about your response or rebuttal while your spouse/child talks.
  • You know you’re merely “faking it” when you find yourself thinking about points your spouse/child has gotten wrong, misquoted, or misunderstood.
  • You are still “faking it” when you think about ways of defending yourself and your actions while your spouse/child speaks.
  • You are “faking it” when you find yourself looking around the room and not making eye contact with your spouse/children as they speak.
  • You are “faking it” when you review accusations against your spouse/child even as they speak.
  • You are “faking it” when you check your phone or look at your texts during your conversation with your spouse/child.
  • You are “really listening” when you make appropriate eye contact with your spouse or children as they speak.
  • You are “really listening” when you ask questions to clarify and better understand your spouse’s/children’s intent, motives, desires, and emotions.
  • You are “really listening” when can restate your spouse’s/children’s message and they agree with you completely.
  • You are “really listening” when you can identify the emotion behind what your spouse or child is saying and they agree with your label.
  • You are “really listening” when you accept responsibility for your own actions and the impact your spouse/child say those actions had on them.

As you can see, listening takes some effort. It means becoming humble enough to care more about understanding than being understood; humble enough to invest more energy in understanding your spouse than you invest in making them understand you. I offer you a challenge. Practice “really listening” for the next month and see if your family life does not improve. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

The Mighty Power of the Pause

I have a friend who likes to ask about my holidays. I especially remember his question about Thanksgiving. Rather than saying “How was your Thanksgiving turkey?” he places a strategic pause in the question to make it “How was your Thanksgiving, Turkey?” That one minor pause changes the whole character and meaning of the question. The pause has the power to create humor…or subtly insult the listener. We must use it with caution in our family conversations to avoid insulting one another.

Closeup portrait, young, happy, smiling woman showing time out gesture with hands, isolated yellow background. Positive human emotions, facial expressions, feelings, body language, reaction, attitude

A slightly different scenario plays out with my wife and me on occasion. The other day, for example, she said, “I hate that. Can’t you change?” I was stymied. My mind began to race through the current conversation and the previous two days. What did I do? What does she want me to change? Why am I the one who always has to change anyway? What about…?  Suddenly, she interrupted my racing thoughts by finishing her question with the words “…the TV channel?” Oh, relief flowed through my body as I realized she didn’t like the TV show coming on and she wanted me to change the channel. An ill-placed pause left room for my insecurities and racing mind to jump to the wrong conclusions. The pause has the subtle power to create misunderstandings.

Just the other day I had another experience with the power of the pause…a slightly different experience. My wife and I were talking about my daughter moving in to an apartment with her friends. I was faced with a difficult choice: take an unpaid vacation to help her or let her and my wife handle it alone so I could work. I wanted to help my daughter but finances are tight. Frustration gave intensity to my voice. I’m sure I sounded angry and my wife most likely felt my anger pointed toward her. In a moment of wisdom, I sat back and quit talking. In the pause of that silence I could take a breath and collect my thoughts. “I want to be there for our daughter,” I said. My wife replied, “You’re going to miss her aren’t you?” It was true. A pause, my silence and my wife’s willingness to wait through that silence, brought clarity to our conversation and my emotions. It allowed us to understand and connect. It brought us closer. Yes, the pause has great power for good as well. The pause allows for the building of intimacy and understanding.

The power of the pause can result in pain or joy. It has the power to disconnect or build greater intimacy. Be aware of the mighty power of the pause…and use it wisely!

A Back Door to Your Child’s Heart

Have you ever watched your children do something and thought, “What in the world are they thinking?” I have—like the time my daughter wrote herself a note to get out of gym class…in first grade…with a crayon…and signed her own name. For the sake of full disclosure, my parents likely thought the same thing of me. Like the time I drilled a hole in the bottom of their washtub and cut the bristles off a broom to make a washtub bass (it did work, by the way). If you have ever had an experience like these and thought, “What in the world…” then you can benefit from this back door to your child’s heart.

Illustrationen, Icons

The back door to your child’s heart begins with your emotional response to his actions and words. When you feel frustrated, annoyed, angry, or proud of your child, you have just located the back door. Now don’t throw the door open and start to vent, gush, or lecture. Enter with caution and love. On the other side of your emotion (the back door) lies your child’s heart; so step back a moment, take a breath, and consider the door. Look beyond your emotion to what that emotion may be telling you. Let me give you a few examples of what your emotion may be telling you about your child.

  • If you feel annoyed with your child’s irritating behavior, he may be craving your loving attention. Give him a little time and attention.
  • If you feel frustrated with your child because he does not appear to listen, he may need to be heard himself. Take time to listen carefully and assure he feels understood by you. After he knows you understand him, he may listen more carefully to you.
  • If you feel defensive or if you feel a deep desire to justify your decision, your child may need you to appreciate his point of view. Try reflecting on his explanation of the current situation. Discuss it before offering your own.
  • If you feel provoked by your child, as though he is questioning your authority, he may need you to let him practice some independent decision making and experience the consequences of his own mistakes.
  • If you feel helpless in the face of your child’s behavior, he may need to feel empowered. Take time to discuss what he believes will result from his actions and review his responsibility for his choices.

 

In other words, your emotion may actually tell you what your child is experiencing in his heart and mind. Your emotion can teach you what your child needs. It is the back door to his heart. As you begin to show empathy for the deeper emotions that lie beneath his actions and help him explore what seems to be happening in his heart, he may open up. You may find yourself discussing the “why’s,” intentions, and motivations of his behavior as well as his deeper desires. When all is said and done, you will have a better understanding of “what in the world was he thinking.” More importantly, your child will feel heard, valued, and appreciated by you. He will have a greater understanding of his own inner world, which will help him practice self-control and make wiser decisions in the future. Your intimacy with your child will increase. And, he is more likely to listen to you. All these benefits begin when you pause a moment at the back door to his heart and consider what is on the other side (his heart) before rushing in. Rather than burst through with lectures, explanations, and yelling, open the door with gentle curiosity and begin to explore what is on the other side. From your emotional experience to his, you will share an intimate moment…and everyone will grow.

Prime Your Children for Success

Many skills can boost your children’s success, but the ability to communicate well is one of the most important. Effective communication will boost your children’s chance of success in personal life and vocational life.

  • couple talking with can telephoneClear communication will enable your children to effectively express their needs and ideas.
  • Effective communication will empower your children to manage their emotions, harnessing the energy of emotion to work toward a goal they can clearly express.
  • Effective communication involves listening. Good listeners gain a better understanding of other people’s needs and ideas. They respond to those needs and ideas in a practical and useful manner. This decreases conflict.
  • Effective communicators listen in a way that builds relationship and leads to greater intimacy.
  • Effective communicators learn better. They listen well and know how to clearly and politely ask for clarification when needed.

 

Knowing effective communication is essential to your children’s success is one thing; but, how can we teach them to listen well and express thoughts clearly? As with most skills we want our children to learn, the most efficient way to teach them is through every day activities and games. Let me share some examples.

  • The next time you take your children to the park or a local ice cream shop, let them give you the directions to your destination. Follow their directions to the letter, encouraging them to clarify as needed.
  • Play telephone. You know the game. Everyone stands in a circle. The first person whispers a message into the ear of another person, who whispers it in the ear of the next person, and so on around the circle until the message is whispered one final time into the ear of the person who started the process. Will the message remain the same? Depends on how well we listen and how clearly we repeat a message.
  • Simon Says is another game that promotes good listening.
  • Take turns telling stories during dinner. You can tell stories about “a day in our life” or share stories you have read, watched on TV, or heard from others.
  • Play games based on the development and acting out of stories. Playing dolls, dress up, teacher, princess, or mom offer wonderful opportunities to develop communication skills. Encouraging your children to put on a play is another example of activities with a strong theme of communication.
  • Allow your children to blindfold you and your spouse. After you are sufficiently blindfolded, they can give each of you a bowl of ice cream. Then, your children can verbally direct you in feeding one another. You might want to start with something less messy…like popcorn.
  • Encourage your child to speak politely and clearly when ordering in a restaurant. This includes making good eye contact and enunciating while remaining polite.
  • Role play approaching a clerk or teacher with a concern or complaint. You play the clerk or teacher and coach your children in voicing their concern and complaint. Then, accompany them to meet with this person. Let them do the speaking. Your presence merely offers support.

 

As you can see, these ideas represent every day activities and games. I’ve listed only a few ideas; I’m sure you can think of many more. When you do these activities, you will have fun learning to communicate. You will have provided your child with practical experience in effective communication. You have primed them for success.

How to Get Fired As A Parent

Are you tired of being in the role of parent? Tired of all the decisions, responsibilities, and demands? Well, if you are tired of your role as parent, I have a plan to get you fired! That’s right—you can get fired from your role as a parent with one easy step. One step and you will have no influence with your child. One step and your child will just quit listening to you and start arguing, even rebelling. Here it easy, the one step to get you fired as a parent: 

 

Intrude into your child’s life. Make every decision for them. Communicate, directly and indirectly, all your doubts about their ability to make any kind of good decision on their own. Force your wise choices on them. If they want an orange, demand that they really want an apple. Remind them that you know what they need better than they do. If they want to hold to some crazy idea like “rap is the best music,” hassle them until they finally submit to your desired beliefs (after all, they are the right ones). Lecture them until you convince them of the wisdom and soundness of your ideas. As you put this step into action, you will get lots of practice. The more you hassle, lecture, intrude, and make every decision for your child, the more your child will rebel and do the opposite. Fortunately, their rebellion will simply allow you more opportunity to practice hassling, lecturing, and intruding. Before you know it your child will fire you. It will happen before you know…well, without you even knowing it happened. You will be so caught up in hassling, lecturing, and intruding that you won’t even realize you’ve been fired. You’ll be expending all sorts of energy on a child who has already fired you.

 

Of course, if you would rather not get fired as a parent…if you would rather have a positive influence in your child’s life…try practicing acceptance and listening. Accept that your child may have different ideas than you. Sometimes those ideas differ because they are children…they are simply the ideas of a young and less mature person. Allow them the freedom to discuss those ideas with you. Listen to their ideas. Become curious about their ideas. Explore how they came to have that idea. Help them think about the idea and help them follow it to a logical conclusion. Accepting and listening will give them the opportunity and freedom to mature and grow.

 

Sometimes your child may express an opposing idea simply to establish their own identity. They want to prove they are their own person; and, they do so by disagreeing with you. Accept their ideas and listen. Become curious about their ideas. You can still voice your disagreement. But allow them the freedom to disagree with you by voicing your disagreement politely and calmly. They will listen more readily to your explanation for your own belief when you remain polite and calm. By accepting that they may believe differently than you, you allow them the freedom to explore both ideas—your idea and their idea—rather than simply defending their own.  As they explore both ideas, they will mature and grow.

 

Whatever the reason for their disagreement, you keep your role as parent by accepting and listening. Your credibility grows steadily stronger, your authority becomes more secure, and your influence grows more compelling as you accept and listen to your child. Sure, you will still have to discipline…and when you do discipline your child will get upset. However, when they know that you also accept them and listen to them, they will become more responsive to your role as a parent…and more open to your ideas. And that is worth all the effort!

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