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“Deep listening is the type of listening that can help relieve the suffering of the other person... You listen with only one purpose. Help him or her empty his or her heart.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
The Power of Compassion
As a society, we marginalize our young people. We invalidate them. We don’t take their opinions seriously.
Deep listening can be a relationally corrective experience. It can help kids realize for the first time what it feels like to be seen, to be witnessed, to be heard. They feel for the first time ‘this person is respecting me.’ As we relate to youth as human beings, their trust and comfort grows.
It can also be socio-culturally corrective. When more adults start treating young people respectfully, and listening to them, and building authentic relationships with them, it can start to transform society.
The Five Components of ‘Deep Listening’
1. Set the intention to be present.
Make a conscious decision to be physically, mentally, and emotionally invested in what the other person has to say.
2. Remain in a state of mindful awareness:
Stay aware of what is being said, and also aware of your own reactions to what is being said.
3. Make sure that your body language conveys that you're paying attention.
You show this through an alert posture and appropriate eye contact.
4. Express curiosity about what the other person is saying.
Reserve judgment. Even if you think the person’s perception is wrong, for now just let them get things off their chest. There may be an appropriate time later to give advice.
5. Remain fully present.
There are no distractions; your entire attention is focused on the person you’re listening to.
Does This Mean We Have to Condone Bad Behavior?
It’s important to remember that as adults, we’re still in positions of authority. You can and should still set limits, but you can do that calmly after they’ve had a chance to blow off steam.
If you ask questions and remain calm, it will lead to less resistance and fewer discipline problems.
How Can I Stay Calm in the Midst of a Tense Encounter?
In situations like this, I use a practice I call TAP:
Take a breath.
First, I take a moment to calm down before reacting.
Next, I tune into my experience of the situation. For example, I may be feeling angry or nervous.
I also remind myself that resistance is usually a form of self-protection. The young person I’m talking to is upset and may be reacting strongly to those feelings rather than intending to treat me with disrespect.
Now that I’m feeling calm and can see the situation clearly, I can proceed with the most appropriate response.
Making a commitment to listen to youth doesn't mean that we let them get away with disrespectful or dangerous behavior. We set clear boundaries and consequences for stepping over the line, but we also give kids a chance to express their suffering.
When youth sense that we're interested in them and what they have to say, they want to talk to us more. This gives us a stronger connection with them and makes them much more likely to take our concerns seriously and follow our advice.
This post was adapted from the first module of the online course Building Authentic Relationships with youth, and is used here with permission from Dr. Sam Himelstein and the Center for Adolescent Studies.
Eight Principles of Teaching Mindfulness Meditation to Adolescents
How Mindfulness Helps Teens and the Adults Who Care About Them (interview)
A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Working with High-Risk Adolescents (recommended book)
Mindfulness-Based Substance Abuse Treatment for Adolescents (recommended book)
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