8 ways to be a better listener (and better grandparent)
Few of us would admit to being grandparents who don’t listen to parents, but some—perhaps many—of us are. According to one poll, when parents asked grandparents to change their behavior, fewer than half of the grandparents complied. Though not all grandparents flat out refused to change, almost a third of the grandparents agreed to change and then didn’t.
Granted, no doubt some of these grandparents had their reasons for not changing. But many grandparents who don't listen to parents simply aren’t hearing what the parents are trying to say. Grandparents may be distracted, or are trying to mind read instead of listening. Good listening is a skill, and a vital one for grandparents.
Luckily, it’s possible to improve your listening skills by practicing active listening. Active listening is more than just hearing words – it’s fully concentrating on what’s being said. You listen with all of your senses and give your full attention to the person speaking. Here are eight ways to do that:
1. Give nonverbal feedback to show you are listening
Make eye contact with the speaker—aim for about 60% to 70% of the time while you are listening. Lean toward the other person, and nod your head occasionally. Smile, or mirror their expressions, and keep your arms uncrossed.
2. Be patient
Be patient while you listen. We are capable of listening much faster than others can speak. Don’t try to fill silences: let them find the words they are searching for.
3. Be neutral and nonjudgmental
Be open, neutral, and withhold judgment while listening. Don’t criticize, even in your head.
4. Don't interrupt while the other person is speaking
Don’t prepare your reply while the other person speaks; the last thing that he or she says may change the meaning of what has already been said.
5. Watch nonverbal behavior to pick up on hidden meaning
Facial expressions, tone of voice, and other behaviors can sometimes tell you more than words alone.
6. Ask questions
Show interest by asking questions to clarify what is said. Ask open-ended questions to encourage the speaker to elaborate. Avoid closed yes-or-no questions, which tend to shorten conversations.
7. Reflect back what is said
Rather than offering unsolicited advice or opinions, paraphrase what has been said. You might start this off by saying "In other words, what you are saying is...". This allows the speaker to elaborate or correct anything you’ve misunderstood.
8. Ask more questions
Asking for clarification about anything that you don’t understand fully shows you are paying attention. By asking questions, you create engagement and the speaker will feel heard and feel valued.
eing present and really listening to what others have to say takes patience and practice, especially if we have listening habits that keep us from hearing and connecting with others. Think about what your barriers are to good listening and be conscious of them the next time you’re in a conversation. Then work on changing that, one behavior or one person at a time.
Really listening to someone creates engagement, which is vital to good relationships. Your grandchild’s parents will come away with a sense that what they have to say is important, and more than that, they understand that they are of value. They’ll know that you are a grandparent who wants to listen and learn. What’s more, you’ll avoid small misunderstandings that can become major issues. Who would have guessed that stronger bonds start with your ears?
For more ways to build trust and goodwill, check out New Grandparent Essentials. It covers all the areas that matter most to new parents—helping grandparents understand their new role from the start!