Imagine you are struggling to connect with others. Think about what you feel. Are you lonely, sad, misunderstood, angry, anxious, or depressed? These are the feelings many who commit school violence are experiencing that cause them to lash out in harmful ways. Now think about what others could do to help connect with you during this time? While there may be a variety of thoughts coming to your mind spanning from simply saying hello to offering to have lunch with you, one option I would like to put forward is the gift of active listening. Listening is a skill that seems easy and we typically think of ourselves as very adept at listening to others. However, most of us aren’t truly engaging in active and purposeful listening.
Ineffective Listening Vs Active Listening
So what makes active listening different from the way we tend to listen to others? I’ll offer a few examples to best illustrate:
- Ineffective listening: A husband begins a conversation with his wife, who is in the middle of dressing their two-year-old child. “I’m feeling overwhelmed at work and I’m not sure what to do. It’s affecting my performance. I’m making a lot of mistakes and I feel like I may lose my job.” Wife glances at her husband but continues what she is doing. “Hmm, it’s okay, babe, I’m sure things will get better soon. Keep your head up.” She then leaves the room and continues on with her day.
- Active listening: A husband begins a conversation with his wife, who is in the middle of dressing their two-year-old child. “I’m feeling overwhelmed at work and I’m not sure what to do. It’s affecting my performance. I’m making a lot of mistakes and I feel like I may lose my job.” The wife stops what she is doing and looks at her husband. She turns her body towards him and places a hand on his. She looks into his eyes and says “I hear that you are feeling overwhelmed and you are concerned it’s affecting your work. You are afraid you may lose your job. I would like to talk to you more about this when our child is in bed so I can give you my full attention. What you are saying is very important to me. Would that be okay with you?”
In both examples, the wife is listening. Only in the second example is she actively listening. Although she isn’t doing anything wrong in either example, which one do you think would produce the better outcome? I agree, I think I would feel much more heard and valued if I were the husband in the second example.
Active Listening Effects School Violence
Active listening is able to impact school violence in a positive manner by helping others feel heard, understood, and connected to other people around them. Actively listening involves eye contact, body posture facing the person talking, restating what the listener hears the talker saying, and focusing attention on the speaker without distraction.
Active listening does not involve judgement of the speaker. It is not also necessary to agree with the speaker. The listener’s job is only to give the gift of active and attentive listening!
This article is a continuation of my previous blog, School Violence-Bringing Light to a Dark Issue, and part three of a five part series on impacting school violence.
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My practice began as a reunification therapist, helping parents renew relationships with their children. I then became a school counselor, and now love being in private practice. Adolescents are one of my favorite age groups to counsel. Call or email with any questions or comments! Our first time consultations are on the phone, 15 minutes and can help you determine your next step. You don’t have to do this alone.