October 20, 2010

From the Comments - Active Listening

"The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them."
-Ralph Nichols

Meredith commented on my last post:

Wait! May I ask a question? I feel like you left out the part most interesting to me. She said, "It feels like you don't love me anymore. It feels like you don't want me to be in a book club." 
How did you respond in that moment? What did you say? How did she eventually get to her conclusion?

In truth, I said very little.  Funny Girl voiced her feelings about my love first.  I said, "Are you worried that I don't love you anymore because I looked angry?"  She said yes and cried a bit more.  I waited for her to work through that emotion.  Thinking about this must have reignited her anger because she then informed me that she would no longer be reading books, and that I was a "dummy head."  "Oh?" I said.   I knew she would be thinking about this statement.

Then she went back to my love.  This time I asked, "Because we left the book club early, you feel like I don't love you?"

"Yes!  It feels like you don't want me to be in a book club."  More crying.

When she was ready I asked her if she wanted to be in the book club.  She said yes.  I asked her if she wanted to tell me about the meeting today, and that's where the rest of the post picks up.

Those conversations all happened on the twenty minute drive home.  By the time we pulled into the driveway, she was happy again.  I made sure to sit with her a few minutes while she talked about lunch.  Then I snapped a few pictures of her, and then we got the mail together.

You may be wondering why I never specifically told her that I loved her.  I tried to show her by listening, understanding, and accepting her instead.  I tell her I love her a hundred times a day.  She knows.


  1. And, don't you sometimes think that "You don't love me anymore." translates to "I'm afraid that I'm in trouble and I don't like that you are angry with me." I am currently taking a course about classroom community building and one we are being taught that one of the keys to being an active and engaged listener is to NOT think about what you are going to say next. Just listen, don't think ahead, and keep it about the speaker. What a great lesson to teach our kids!

  2. Sadie- Yes, it does mean that too. I sometimes wonder if the fear of losing love is what we all fear the most.

    It makes perfect sense that one can't be truly listening AND formulating a response at the same time.