The art of listening

I believe that my number one job is to listen, attentively and with genuine interest to the person who is speaking to me. Yet, I sometimes find that I don’t practice this with my own kid.

Just the other day, my ten year-old was talking to me about his last soccer game and how the captain of his soccer team determined the toss-off.

“Toss off? What’s a toss-off,” I asked.

“Mom,” he said with an eye roll. “You should really know this by now.” For three years, I’ve watched him play in more than 50 soccer games. How could I have missed this critical piece of information?

“The toss-off determines who gets to choose the side to attack at the beginning of the game,” he said. “We toss a coin, or do rock, paper, scissors. That’s what they do in professional soccer, too.”

“I didn’t know that.” I said.

“You need to pay attention,” he said. Touché.

While the pros don’t employ rock, paper, scissors to determine the start of play, they do toss a coin. According to the “Laws of the Game” drawn up by FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, the start of play begins with tossing a coin. The team that wins the toss decides which goal to attack in the first half of the match. The opposing team gets to take the kick-off to start the match. For the second half, the teams switch ends, and the team that won the coin toss kicks off.

To a non-soccer player, it’s all very confusing. However, our little conversation made me think about the importance of listening with an attentive mind and heart.

Listening seems obvious, doesn’t it?

Of course we listen to our kids, our spouses, our bosses, our teachers, our parents, and our co-workers. We’ve gotten this far, haven’t we? But listening and paying attention with your mind and heart is hard. Here’s a few things that make it hard to listen:

  • distractions (dog barking at bunny)
  • cultural differences (British speech patterns can be especially baffling)
  • selective listening (I didn’t hear you say turn the TV off!)
  • being judgmental (“I’m grateful that I’m not as judgmental as all those censorious, self-righteous people around me.” – anonymous)
  • defensiveness (who me?)
  • making assumptions (when you “assume” you make an “ass” out of “you” and “me”)

I don’t know about you, but there’s an awful lot of chatter going on inside my head ranging from what I’m going to say next, to my grocery list, to “does this make my butt look big?” Taming the terrorist in my mind is often difficult. It requires energy, focus, presence, and concentration.

Studies show we forget 75 percent of what we hear.

If you believe the data, it’s a miracle we’ve evolved. Some learning experts dispute these numbers and their validity. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what the percentage is. What matters is taking responsibility to listen well, especially when it comes to kids.

Kids are kinetic and fun to watch.

Kids are naturally curious; asking questions, poking the inner and outer workings of things, solving problems independently, and sharing what frustrates them to someone who listens with their heart. On many occasions after the school bus had delivered James and his friends home; and after they’d thrown off their backpacks, I’ve observed a pack of boys emerging onto the street riding scooters, ripsticks, and bikes. Sometimes they’d toss a football, kick a soccer ball, or throw sticks at each other. Other times they’d play games like hide and seek (but call it something like death football), and keep-away-from-the-zombie while bouncing on a trampoline.

The boys I see slide in the mud, hunt for frogs, swing, climb, and weave in and out of the shrubbery, hunting each other. When it’s time for a snack, they talk, and that’s the perfect time to listen and notice with all of your heart.

  • “I had a rough day.”
  • “My teacher yelled at me.”
  • “Sixth grade reading is really hard.”
  • “I got a 60 percent on my reading test.”
  • “I had to stay in for recess.”
  • “I try to always wear black.”
  • “I have world language for last period and my teacher thinks we’re the best class she has. She doesn’t like 7th graders. They talk back too much.”
  • “Allo Govnah. Pip, pip. Cheerio.”

The spaces in between often reveal so much when you listen with your heart.

When you listen, everything melts away and you also give your kids one of the greatest gifts. Listen to your kids. They know more than you think.

To whom will you listen today?

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