The power is in the listener
We are starting the fifth week of confinement, and I must admit, I still learn how to relate to my fears, my parenting role, my work, and my children. For sure, I sense I, we, have set up good habits that help our children cope with it all. But I also see the cracks stiffening, in my husband, my children, and me. I sometimes try to hold on to my sanity a bit too hard, confusing balance and fixation. I attach too much attention to what I think will help me stay balanced that I’m bolted to my position sometimes.
What I have learned in the past days, is the importance of listening and how it removed fixation to bring back flexibility, flow. I was not listening to my emotions, not paying enough attention to my limits. I’ve put on the armor of “Mother” and led through the day with a firm hand. I was the driving leader that I know I can be. I had a clear idea of how the day should look like with activities, cleaning, cooking, and playing. When my kids, or husband, didn’t follow, I became rigid, snapping at the one who slowed the process. It was unpleasant for them and me.
Listening To Care
Luckily I had the chance to have a call with my supervisor. Out of the blue, something I’ve learned at work stirred a deep emotion I didn’t notice before. Because I didn’t sense it, nor recognized it, it drove me to be stiff. I felt tight, uncomfortable, where the people I love became all of a sudden insufferable. That would have opened my eyes, right there, as a signal that I need something. My supervisor offered me a lesson of proactive listening that helped me unpack my emotions. He cleared his calendar so that we could take one hour more to deal with the surge of emotions. Trust me; it felt overwhelming. He listened to me with curiosity, exploring with questions like “how does this make you feel,” or “what do you need right now?”. I could explore the roots of the emotion, put words on it, and feel the relief of letting it out with someone caring, supporting. He gently helped me work out their meaning, asking what the emotions are telling me, one by one.
Lessons In Parenting, and Leadership
One might argue it is his job to do so. What I see is an excellent lesson in parenting and leadership alike. We often think that a leader should talk, sharing the vision, explaining the scope and risks, maintaining a calm demeanor, and inviting words to motivate the troops where they need to go. In a way, the unconscious bias is believing that power is in the talker. More and more, I think the power is in the listener, who, by listening proactively, connects, cares, and creates trust in a way no speech can. Once you are heard, when you sense how someone is taking in what you share, it satisfies a deep-rooted need of belonging. When you belong, you can do anything. For sure, being inspired and hearing powerful words helps get things done. But once there is a hurdle, the words are not enough, but the bond is. The bond refers both to the heartfelt connection to the leader who listened to you, but also the bond s/he created within yourself by enlightening your inner world. The way my supervisor listened to me to help me create meaning has a lasting effect. I don’t need him to pamper me. I’m on track. What touched me the most, is not the way he talked about process or actions, but how he cleared his calendar to welcome me as is.
Lesson 1 – Listen To Help the Other Open Up
As a parent, we can sometimes be a bit too rigid or not enough, and in both instances, we miss the power of authentic listening. When you are too stiff, you fear to feel powerless, so you force things, without stopping to hear what is going on, literally and figuratively. When you are not rigid enough, you avoid feeling a burden, and you let things slide, avoiding to connect to what is truly happening.
WWhen you see signs of rigidity in your child, be it with a nervous behavior or withdrawal, offer to listen without trying to fix the problem, share your point of view, or explain what is happening. Just be there. Listen with your heart and ears, asking simple open questions like “how does that make you feel?”, “what do you want to do then?” “How will that make you feel?” “what do you need?”. You can do this with children of 5 years and up. Just let them unpack what they carry.
Lesson 2 – Listen To Help Your Child Connect To Her Resources
A pitfall for parents resisting stress and coping themselves is to take charge, to control (check the book Raise a Human Being, Not a Consumer for more insight). They can tell their children how they should feel or do. The problem with this is that it removes the child from its power; she can withdraw and be disconnected from her emotions because she feels she hasn’t the right to feel that way. Over time, she will behave like a victim, unresponsible for her feelings or fate.
When you listen proactively, without trying to impose your view or find a solution, you help your child connect to her inner resources. She has everything in her to succeed; what she lacks is the connection to it. It is your role to make the connection through your simple, exploring questions. Normalize what she experiences (“it is okay to feel frustrated, anxious, bored, isolated”), tell her she is perfect as is, and keep asking what she needs to feel better. Some might say they want to see their friends. It is okay. Ask what they can do that would be a step towards satisfying the need to be close to friends without breaking the confinement. Just be there, soft in your heart, curious to hear what they come up with. Remind them of their inner resources.
Lesson 3 – Listen To Bring Love In the Relationship
When your child is in the realm of her emotions, stuck, and no words can remove her from there, be present and listen by doing nothing. I’ve watched my son be so fed-up with things he doesn’t like in us that he refused to sit with us at dinner. He sat outside, not responding to our request. We were rigid; we felt powerless. Then it dawned on me that rules now do not apply, but love is needed. He needs love for himself (it is uncomfortable what he complains about and might judge himself for that), and love for us (to reduce the impact of what annoys him in us). So I watched him lovingly, softening my heart. I saw that he wanted to start a fire in the fire pit, so I let him, kindly giving him the missing ingredients. In the end, we’ve spent a fantastic evening singing around the fire. He could overcome the stuckness thanks to love, not control.
What I’ve learned is that when rules and processes are not working, it means that love and listening are needed. I believe strongly that rules or structures are necessary for children (you can check posts on my website or buy the new book). Sometimes, when there is too much emotion and within a clear structure, what is needed is love. Listen to yourself without trying to fix you. Listen to your spouse to sense the bond of the relationship. Listen to your children to give them the sense they matter and are perfect as is. Wonder, and accept what is.