Why won’t they understand? Why don’t they get it? Why can’t they just listen to me? When was the last time you were seeking helpful advice, affirmation, empathy, or help but received anything except that? Find out here.
How to communicate with your brother or sister-in-law when the relationship is conflicted is the subject for this video lesson. This post is the outline of the notes for the session. Dr. Don made this presentation to Titus 2 Community and Explicitly Christian Marriage, both are Christian marriage support groups.
How healthy is your communication in your marriage? How well do you listen? Taking wisdom from the Bible and the latest research in interpersonal communication, learn how to apply 7 excellent listening skills for healthy and successful relationships.
7 Excellent Listening Skills for Successful Communication was a live presentation for Titus 2 Community's Christian Marriage Support Group. For more information about T2C, go here. In this lesson, you rate yourself in terms of how well you listen. See the picture below:
Follow along with these notes:
One of the things often at the center of much conflict is poor communication between people. It could be due to sloppy talk, genuine misunderstanding, or poor listening skills.
As you watch this video and go through these seven skills, take a self-exam. Score each one with
5 Always 4 Frequently 3 Sometimes 2 Infrequently 1 Never
1. I desire to please God in my communication with my spouse.
(1 Cor. 10:31)
2. I am concerned about my spouse enough to be interested in what s/he says
(Phil. 2:3; Eph. 4:2; Rom. 12:15)
a. Show interest in what is important to your partner.
b. Listen across time (remembering what they have said in previous conversations).
c. Make it easy for the other person to talk.
Use tracking: behaviors that help others keep on track (nodding head, keeping good eye contact, don’t interrupt, leaning forward, using prompting phrases such as “go ahead” or “and then”, etc.)
3. I am a ready and disciplined listener.
James 1:19 - So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.
a. What this means:
(1) Most or all the time I stop what I’m doing and pay attention to my spouse.
(2) I concentrate on what s/he says.
(3) I attend to what my spouse is feeling.
(4) I put away things that can distract me from listening.
b. What is the opposite?
(1) I am consistently slow or unwilling to listen.
(2) My mind tunes out what s/he is talking about.
(3) I allow distractions to interfere with our talk (phone, computer, TV, book, games)
c. What to do:
(1) Put away distractions.
Be intentional about putting away things that can rob your conversation of the level of value it deserves.
(2) Look at the speaker – her eyes and lips.
(3) Don’t rush the conversation or talk too much.
(4) Allow for silence. It's fine and normal to pause and have moments of quiet.
(5) Concentrate. If you have a hard time doing that, then learn.
4. I think before I speak.
Prov.15:28 - The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
Prov. 29:20 - Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
a. What this means
(1) Consider what is being said and accept it at face value.
(2) I grasp what my spouse is saying and then formulate a response in my mind.
(3) I think of the repercussions for what I am going to say before saying it.
Saying the right thing at the wrong time can sabotage the discussion.
Saying the wrong thing at the right time can hurt your spouse or the relationship.
Ex: during a home Bible study, a scientist, sitting next to his wife said he did not believe in beauty.
b. Doing the opposite:
(1) Thinking more about what I want to say than about the topic on hand. Most people are formulating what they want to say without considering if it is.
(2) Speaking without giving your response much thought.
This can be hard for people who think out loud.
(3) Automatically assume things and interpret what is being said.
c. What to do:
(1) Get in the habit of doing this: H.E.A.R. before you speak
H – Is it helpful?
E – Is it educational/informative?
A – Is it appropriate?
R – Is it relevant?
(2) If what is said is unclear, then ask good questions.
5. I wait until the other person has finished talking before answering.
Prov. 18:13 – If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
Prov. 18:17 - The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
a. What this means:
(1) Being aware of the cues for when your spouse has finished the statement.
(2) I show respect for my spouse even if I don’t value something s/he said.
(3) Exercise patience to be considerate.
b. Doing the opposite:
(1) I talk too much (Job 11:2; 16:3; Eccles. 5:3; 6:11; 10:14).
(2) I jump ahead to answer or finish the sentence.
(3) Cut off your spouse when s/he is not finished.
(4) Walk away before the conversation is over.
c. What to do
(1) Don’t interrupt.
(a) When you do this, it means you are more concerned about making your point than hearing what your partner has to say.
(b) It’s rude and shows a lack of respect.
(c) It is a way to shut down your spouse or the conversation.
d. Know when to be silent and when to speak.
(1) A good dialog is like a dance.
A simple exercise is to use a soft, light-weight ball. When you are done talking, give the ball to your partner. In other words, whoever has the ball speaks.
e. If you are unclear about whether your spouse is finished, ask. Or use the ball.
6. I try to understand the other person’s viewpoint.
Prov. 18:2 - A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
Proverbs 18:15 - An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
a. What this means
(1) I make it a priority to study and know my spouse
(2) I make allowances for differences.
No two people think exactly alike. If you and your spouse were alike, then one of you would be redundant.
Research has demonstrated that men’s brains and women’s brains are different.
b. Doing the opposite
(1) When my partner is talking, I react or draw improper conclusions.
Ex: Job’s friends were so bad at understanding Job and what he was going through that he finally said, “Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!” See Job 13:5.
(2) I am lazy and do not work at understanding my spouse or her/his opinions.
For example, in 1 Peter, God calls on Christian men to live with their wives in an understanding way.
c. What to do to understand the other person’s perspective: G.R.A.S.P. what they are saying.
G - Give grace to your husband or wife.
R -Repeat back what you hear them say.
A – Ask genuine questions to clarify what was said.
S – Sympathize
Validate their emotion. This does not mean you agree with what is said or how s/he feels but that you acknowledge how they are feeling. This is a good step toward empathy and a great way to make your partner feel felt.
“I hear frustration. Am I reading you right?”
“Your tone comes across as angry. Are you?”
P – Paraphrase the response to make sure you heard right.
7. In important discussions, I stay on topic and answer appropriately.
Proverbs 15:23 - To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!
How did you score?
7 = You need help.
21 = Not bad but you need to work on some things.
35 = Fantastic! You’re a great listener!
If you have any thoughts or questions, let me know in the comments box. Would you like to improve your listening skills? Contact me to see how we can work together to improve your listening skills and elevate your relationships.
How can you be a parent your child wants to talk with?
As a child therapist, the most common complaint I hear from parents is, “He just won’t talk to me.” Feeling estranged from your own child is painful, and it has implications for the child. Research indicates the most important predictor of a child’s emotional and psychological stability is the closeness of the parent/child relationship. Obviously, if the child is not opening up when they are upset, the relationship is not as close as it needs to be.
There are two habits that parents routinely engage in that shut down communication and drive a child away: negating feelings and mistaking sympathy for empathy.
Sympathy vs. empathy
When a child is truly in distress because they feel hurt, disappointed, worried, or angry, they desperately need their parent. Yet, often, parents don’t want to see their child feeling negatively, so their first instinct is to tell their child not to feel the way they do. Before they think, statements such as “don’t be disappointed” or “don’t be mad” escape. This results in the child feeling ashamed of how they feel, compounding the hurt. Moreover, the knowledge that their parent does not understand leaves them feeling alone, which is detrimental. Basically, the child learns that opening up about how they feel makes them feel worse.
Statements to avoid:
- Don’t worry.
- Don’t feel that way.
- Don’t be disappointed.
- Don’t be like that.
- Don’t be mad.
- You are too sensitive.
A better idea is to empathize. Honor their feelings. Feelings are never wrong; it’s what kids do with feelings that can get them in trouble. Examples of empathy include:
- That’s a big worry. I get it.
- You are upset. I would be too.
- You have every right to feel disappointed. I felt like that when I was your age.
- You are mad. I understand. You have every right.
- It hurts to see someone do something you want to be able to do, but can’t yet.
- You are mad. I’m sure you have a good reason. I want to hear about it.
After you give them a solid dose of empathy, the child feels understood and connected to you, which means they immediately feel better and will want your help in problem solving. In many cases, the empathy is all they need to feel better. Simply knowing their parent understands allows them to feel secure and forge ahead.
In addition, just because you empathize with how your child feels does not automatically mean you are condoning bad behavior. For example, my son came in the door angry last week. He slammed the door and threw his coat down. I said, “You are mad. I don’t know why, but you probably have a very good reason, and I want to hear about it, but you can’t throw your coat. Go pick it up.” After he picked up his jacket, he immediately came to me and told me he was upset about a conflict he got into with a friend.
Here’s how it works: Empathy creates good vagal tone in a child’s brain and immediately calms them. After receiving empathy, they settle down and can logically think through problems with you. They also feel understood and close to you which allows them to forge ahead with a sense of security.
No parent wants a child who feels sorry for themselves, plays the victim, or is overly dramatic, and maybe that is the fear that prevents a parent from being empathic. However, honoring their child’s feelings is actually what prevents a sense of entitlement or a victim mentality in a child. Sympathy, on the other hand, disrupts any chance of emotional attunement and tempts parents to enable. The parent saves and rescues their child from negative feelings instead of helping them work through difficult feelings.
For example, on the way home from hockey practice one night my eight-year-old son, Jimmy, said to me, “Mom, I was the worst one tonight. I’m the worst one every night. I barely got put in.”
Now, I have two choices, the sympathetic response or the empathic response.
1. The sympathetic response:“Poor guy, Im going to call your coach and talk to him. I don’t think it’s fair that he benches you for most of the practice.”
2. The empathic response:“That hurts, kiddo. It hurts to feel like you’re the worst one. I get it. I’ve felt like that a lot in my life. It stinks. Keep at it. It will get better.”
In essence, the sympathetic response tempts us to enable and ask that the rules be changed or concessions be made for our child, which teaches them to play the victim. Also, it requires no emotional investment on the parent’s part because the parent becomes the powerful saver and rescuer, which strokes the parent’s ego. It is the easy way out.
The empathic response requires the parent shift from how they feel to how the child feels. It’s emotional attunement. It’s the parent remembering how it feels to be the worst one at something, so they can relate to their child. It’s selfless and it puts the child first, emotionally. When there is emotional attunement, the child feels understood and connected to you, which allows them to feel secure and more able to forge ahead and try again. Empathy creates a rugged work ethic and resilience in a child. The child will thrive on adversity instead of breaking down when negative things happen. Empathy creates brave and strong human beings.
Stay close to your child. Empathize and empower. The reward will be priceless.
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How do you talk with your child? Did you know how you talk changes their brain?
[This article was written by Sophie Hardach and can be found here.]
Most parents know that talking to their child helps them develop. But a new study has revealed that it’s how you talk to your child that really matters for their brain growth. Rather than just spewing complex words at them, or showing flashcards in the hope of enriching their vocabulary, the key is to engage them in “conversational turns” – in other words, a good old chat.
In a study of children between the ages of 4 and 6, cognitive scientists at MIT found that such back-and-forth conversation changes the child’s brain. Specifically, it can boost the child’s brain development and language skills, as measured both by a range of tests and MRI brain scans. This was the case regardless of parental income or education.
“The important thing is not just to talk to your child, but to talk with your child. It’s not just about dumping language into your child’s brain, but to actually carry on a conversation with them,” said Rachel Romeo, a graduate student at Harvard and MIT and the lead author of the paper.
The finding adds an important twist to what we know about language and development. In 1995, a seminal studyestablished that children from the wealthiest families hear about 30 million more words by age three than children from the poorest families. The authors of that study argued that the “30-million-word gap” set the children off on fundamentally different developmental trajectories that affected their experiences later on.
Today, there are countless educational apps and toys devoted to filling that word gap and expanding children’s vocabulary from day one. However, trying to inundate children with millions of words may be missing a crucial factor in development: human relationships, and social interaction.
In fact, the MIT study suggests that parents should perhaps talk less, and listen more.
"The number of adult words didn’t seem to matter at all for the brain function. What mattered was the number of conversational turns," Romeo said.
The children in the study wore recorders at home that registered each word they spoke or heard. Scientists then analyzed these recordings for “conversational turns”, or back-and-forth exchanges between an adult and the child. They found that the number of conversational turns correlated strongly with the children’s scores in a range of language tests. It also correlated with more activity in the area of Broca’s area, the area of the brain involved in speech production and language processing, when the children listened to stories while their brains were being scanned. These correlations were much stronger than between the number of words heard, and test scores or brain activity.
“The really novel thing about our paper is that it provides the first evidence that family conversation at home is associated with brain development in children. It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain,” says John Gabrieli, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT and the senior author of the study.
The study noted that while children from wealthier families were exposed to more language on average, children from poor but chatty families had language skills and brain activity similar to those wealthier children. This was an important finding that prompted researchers to encourage parents from all backgrounds to engage with their children - including interactive chatting with babies, for example by making sounds back and forth or copying faces.
“One of the things we’re excited about is that it feels like a relatively actionable thing because it’s specific,” Gabrielli said. “That doesn’t mean it’s easy for less educated families, under greater economic stress, to have more conversation with their child. But at the same time, it’s a targeted, specific action, and there may be ways to promote or encourage that.”
The idea of learning through social engagement and emotional bonding chimes with other research on how infants learn language. Babies tend to learn by watching and copying the adults they are most attached to, which is why singing and cuddling are much more effective than high-tech educational toolswhen it comes to development. Later, children learn most effectively through play, for example imaginary role play with friends or adults.
Chatting also requires more complex cognitive skills than only listening, or only talking. According to the MIT researchers, having a conversation allows children to practice understanding what the other person is trying to say, and how to respond appropriately. This is very different from merely having to listen.
Roberta Golinkoff, a professor of education at the University of Delaware School of Education who was not involved in the study, said the study added to evidence that language development went far beyond filling the word gap.
“You can talk to a child until you’re blue in the face, but if you’re not engaging with the child and having a conversational duet about what the child is interested in, you’re not going to give the child the language processing skills that they need,” said Golinkoff.
This presentation was originally given to the Titus 2 Community's Talk Live Tuesday. Titus 2 Community is a Christian Marriage support group on Facebook that can be found on their T2C page. You can tune in to T2C's Talk Live Tuesdays at 6PM PST / 9PM EST.
Listening well is a high-value skill God requires his people to have and listening well brings high-value life-change to your relationships. Find out why.