Early Family Interactions and Your Listening Skills

listening, listening well, family listening

We often intrinsically know whether we feel listened to and understood; ignored, dismissed, or misunderstood by another person. But how often do we intentionally think about our capacity to listen in relationships – whether that’s work, family, romantic, social, or spiritual – and how often do we reflect on the connection between our early family experiences and how they taught us to listen (or not)?

In The Lost Art of Listening, Michael Nichols makes a strong case for how our early family history has a powerful impact on our current listening skills and ability (2009, p. 102).

Here are a few questions to help you explore how you have learned to listen (and what you expect from other listeners):

  • What did your parents do to make you feel they were truly listening to you?
  • How did you know they were really listening?
  • Were there certain subjects where they tended to listen more carefully?
  • Were there certain emotions they picked up on and to which they paid closer attention?
  • What did your parents do to make you feel they weren’t really listening to you?
  • How would you know they stopped listening?
  • Which circumstances, subjects, emotions – or which tone would result in them tuning you out?
  • How do those early experiences affect how you approach conversations now?
  • Are there emotions that you learned to avoid expressing (i.e., fear, hurt, sadness) or subjects that you learned not to talk about? What are the things you no longer share with others?
  • And, similarly, what are the subjects you don’t listen to when others share? Or what emotions do you tend to tune out?
  • Do you listen differently to different people? Your significant other, your child, one child versus another, friends, co-workers, etc.?

Whomever you are having a conversation with also has their own set of answers to all of the above questions! So it’s very interesting to consider not just your own answers, but also the answers of the other individual. Recognizing the historical factors that have shaped your listening, then beginning to share that with others can have a powerful impact on your listening and communication.

(Adapted from “The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships” by Michael Nichols, 2009.)

Written by: Mindy Pierce, LPC