Active Listening is a concept we often hear about and read. However, what exactly is Active Listening?

There are four main distinctions when it comes to our ability to actively listen to someone:

  • Listen intently
  • Listen without judgment
  • Refrain from interrupting
  • Refrain from comparing

This week I set the intention to really listen to my kids keeping those 4 things in mind. Interestingly, when you set the intention for something, life will always find a way to challenge those intentions as if to say, “Are you really sure you meant it? Is this really what you want to do?”

This weekend I decided to take my daughters to the movies. My younger daughter was complaining recently that she doesn’t like movies we pick for family movie nights. Keeping all that in mind, I decided to surprise her by picking a movie that I thought she would really like. It had all the characteristics of things she truly cares about and typically enjoys watching. I was so excited about surprising them both and doing something fun on a Saturday afternoon.

In my head, I had a story of how this experience should really work for all of us. How delighted and grateful they will be to spend time with me watching a movie that we all can enjoy. There would be smiles, giggles and happy bonding time with my girls.

So that was my story and here is what actually happened…. We came out of the movie theater and my younger daughter who is 12, seemed really upset and angry. She said she didn’t enjoy the movie at all. She was pouting all the way home, and wouldn’t engage in any conversations.

I had no idea what happened to trigger such a reaction. Especially since her sister and I both thought the movie was fantastic.

My inner dialog on that drive home went something like this: “Why do I even bother trying to do things like that for her? She is clearly not enjoying spending time with me or her sister. I would be better off being home and studying for my parenting certification course. I am so busy, and here I get no appreciation for anything that I try to do, etc.”

But then, somewhere between leaving the movie theater and arriving home I remembered what I was learning about in my parenting certification class, about Active Listening.

Here I was clearly violating all of the 4 major tenants of that concept… It was not easy to admit this to myself.

Once we came home, my younger daughter asked to talk to me in private. I told myself that I will stay focused on Active Listening in this conversation, even though I was really upset at her behavior after the movie.

Before I had a chance to say anything at all about my own feelings, she started by saying that she knows her attitude wasn’t right, and that she was mad about something else and not even mad at me. Her true feelings started pouring out, and all I could do was hold the space for her to really share with me what was bothering her.

You see, it wasn’t about me at all. It wasn’t about the movie. It wasn’t about her sister.  It wasn’t about anything that happened in the last few hours of our time together.

It was about her need for validation, acceptance and unconditional love. Holding that space for her with no judgment, no comparison, no criticism allowed her to feel safe to share what was really bothering her.

So often we make an event or a situation mean something that has nothing to do with the reality of what is truly going on. The only way to really transform the experience into something meaningful for all parties involved is to practice Active Listening. There is no other way for us to be truly present in the moment with those we love the most.