Hey, World—Listen Up!
by Trudy Ludwig
Let’s face it: too much talking and not enough listening has a dangerous polarizing effect, as currently evidenced in the U.S. and around the world. We’re experiencing intense civil discourse because we’ve lost the ability to really listen and understand what our citizens’ needs are and why they aren’t being met. Collaboration and problem resolution cannot take place if we’re all just yelling / tweeting / posting hateful and hurtful messages at one another. All this endless vitriol simply falls on empathy-fatigued, apathetic ears.
Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of horrible adult role-modeling going on these days for our children. Ever the optimist, I’m hopeful that our youth can do better and be better than us.
And, in my work with countless school communities, this hope is nourished by the many Kindness Warriors I’ve encountered, recruited, and engaged with over the years as a children’s advocate and author of books that promote kindness, compassion, inclusion, and acceptance. These Kindness Warriors come in different sizes, colors, genders, and ages. What do they have in common? They are active, compassionate listeners; they may not be able to get rid of all the hurt in our world, but they can help us get through it. And because Kindness Warriors really listen to what others have to say, they’re much more proactive in making positive change happen.
“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 G. Nichols
So how can we help kids of all ages understand that too much talking can get in the way of listening, and, in turn, connecting, collaborating, and problem solving with those around them? Here are some helpful tips:
- Plan what you want to say before speaking. Avoid rambling by learning to “speak in headlines.”
- Use a respectful, positive inside voice when sharing. Shouting shuts down listening.
- Don’t interrupt others. Let talkers finish their own sentences.
- Take turns listening and talking, so everyone gets a chance to share their perspective.
- Ask questions (e.g., “What do you think?” “What do you want to do?” or “Do you have any ideas or suggestions?”) to generate thoughtful two-way conversations.
- Give your full attention to the person talking. Look them in the eye. Be open and respectful.
- Repeat what you heard to make sure you understand what the talker said.
- Are you talking too much? Pay attention to the listener’s body language and facial expressions. If they don’t look at you and seem distracted, bored, or upset, stop talking.
The benefits of being a good listener are bountiful—the most prominent being that while talking may prove a point, listening can open your heart.
Trudy Ludwig is a nationally renowned speaker and bestselling author of children’s books that help kids connect with their peers in kind, caring ways. Her newly released book, Quiet Please, Owen McPhee! (Knopf/Penguin Random House) helps young readers to understand the power of listening—not only with their ears, but also their heart. For more information about Trudy and her work, visit www.trudyludwig.com