“Listen to me, Mom!”
“I am listening, honey.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am. I’ve heard every word you said.”
“But, Mom, I need you to listen with your eyes.
Mom then sets aside her work, turns to her child, and listens with her eyes.
This story, shared in a training session for social workers and foster and adoptive parents, drove home that everyone, not just children, need to know beyond any doubt that we value and hear them.
In our multi-tasking world we must regularly ignore everything else and focus totally on the person before us. During those special blocks of time, with eyes wide open, we hear not only the words but a far greater message. They reveal the emotions behind those words.
When we give undivided attention—with our eyes and our ears—the people around us feel respected and encouraged to share their inner concerns and desires.
- If individuals have had a bad day, they free themselves of a negative outlook by addressing their trials and knowing someone understands and cares.
- Laughing together over something silly they said or did creates stockpiles of goodwill to help weather future misunderstandings.
- Discussing warm fuzzies about nothing accomplishes the same goal.
- Serving as an accountability partner and encouraging them when they’ve demonstrated care for others energizes a lifestyle of service.
- On the flip side of accountability, if they confess poor decisions and express remorse, our forgiveness and unconditional love gives a glimpse of God’s agape love. In the process, we strengthen the individual’s sound judgment, self-discipline, and sense of responsibility.
The Eyes Have It
- Receiving undivided attention stimulates greater skills in social interactions. People accept others more easily when they feel accepted.
- The likelihood of negative bids for attention decreases and relationships grow stronger.
- Just as fruit and vegetables feed our physical appetites, openness to thoughts and questions nourishes our mental, emotional, and spiritual cravings. By actively listening, we promote not only a feeling of greater capability but also the capability itself.
- When appropriate, hugs and other signs of affection sweeten the offering and are frequently reciprocated.
- Modeling listening eyes indirectly activates listening eyes in others. Let’s face it; we like to be heard too!
When to Avoid Eye Contact
We must also recognize, however, when to avoid eye contact. If discussing difficult information or when emotions run high, side by side activities relieve part of the pressure. A short walk, sitting together on a couch, or any activity where eyes focus elsewhere usually works. Although you give full attention, they feel less on the hot seat, and so do we. They’re free to explore their difficulty, bounce ideas around, and seek resolution.
Frequently no words of advice are desired or necessary. They simply need to know we hear and care. Most people can quite capably resolve their situations when offered the opportunity to reflect. In those cases listen actively and keep the conversation going with “Mm-hmm’s”, “I see,” “So you’re saying….”
What’s most important, whether eyes or no eyes: Does this person feel heard and see his or her needs met?
“Ears that hear and eyes that see—the Lord has made them both” (Proverbs 20:12 NIV).