How many of you, as a child, were told by your parents or teachers, "You're
not listening!" But what was the real message they were sending?
Most likely it was: Be quiet; Don't talk back; Don't argue with me. Sit
still in your seat. Don't interrupt your teachers. Respect your parents.
Don't speak until you are spoken to. Children should be seen, not heard.
Be obedient. Often, the adults in your life
were not really interested in you. Rather, they were more concerned with
imposing their will upon you, and wishing for you to parrot back their ideas
and attitudes. You were being judged, devalued, criticised, controlled or
Unfortunately, this type of treatment can lead to severe adult depression
and neuroses: see Is
Psychiatry Lying, by Martti Paloheimo M.D. When you are getting two
conflicting messages, it's called a double-bind
communication which Gregory Bateson showed can lead to schizophrenia
or borderline personality disorders. This can then precipitate abuse, violence,
even schoolyard massacres: see Richard Grossman's essay: Voice
Lessons, Littleton, Colorado.
Yet, what if you, as a child, were really listened to, and your observations
and feelings valued? What then? Would the world collapse? When I read the
following passage, I remembered it as being a perfect example of listening,
and of how comforting it can truly be. What the father did is simple. The
next three paragraphs are by Gershen Kaufman, from his book "The Psychology
of Shame." :
"Consider the following situation. A man has two sons; his oldest son,
along with three friends, requires two more players to complete their basketball
teams. They invite the man and his younger son to join. The younger boy
begins playing the game displaying much excitement and joy, but his mood
gradually turns to disappointment when he is not given equal opportunity
to play; he is a good four years younger than the other boys. Once the game
becomes truly competitive, the younger boy is increasingly excluded. In
response he displays a "pouting posture"; pouting is a mixture
of deepening shame and anger. The younger boy's tolerance finally evaporates
and suddenly he flees into the house, crying. His father follows him in,
and finds theboy crying bitterly on the couch. Sitting down beside his son,
father places an arm around him, and listens as the boy intermittently cries
and voices his feelings: "They aren't giving me the ball. They don't
want me out there. They're ignoring me." The boy feels unimportant,
little. Mixed with distress and shame is intense rage at his humiliators.
His father simply acknowledges how badly his son feels and agrees openly
with everything he says, "You're right, son, they don't want you in
the game and you feel little." In effect, father is approaching the
boy's shame, allowing it expression. His father is validating both the boy's
perception of what was actually happening during the game and his
inner experience of himself, his shame. The boy suddenly dries his tears,
gives his father a hug and abruptly darts back outside to rejoin the game,
his shame having been released.
This situation illustrates how the sudden, unexpected reduction of positive
affect (excitement and enjoyment), as long as it remains a partial reduction,
can activate shame. I have to assume he was imagining scenes of playing
and contributing as an equal team member and that he was also imagining
himself playing well, though the image he sought to match was one
four years older. Children must contend daily with older siblings and adults
whom they can never match in skill or accomplishment, guaranteeing a perpetual
vulnerability to shame in the earliest years. When the boy's particular
expectations concerning his playing on the team-his imagined scenes of positive
affect-became repeatedly disappointed in reality even though he still longed
for them, shame became activated. Even after running into the house, he
had not renounced the scene.
Whenever an individual's fundamental expectations (imagined positive scenes
or desired outcomes in relation to people, events, or accomplishments) are
suddenly exposed as wrong, shame is activated. Whenever expectations are
thwarted or disappointed, shame is also activated. These are all instances
of the innate activation of shame, triggered by the partial or incomplete
reduction of positive affect or of the imagined scenes thereof."
So what this father did was simple, just acknowledging and validating the
boy's experience. But the interchange could have gone badly, if the father
said this: "When you drop the ball, it is like me dropping the ball.
Now get back out there and try harder!" In this case, the father's
shame and sense of inadequacy is being activated, and it is being used as
a method of control. What the father
is saying here is "You are embarrassing me. I am disappointed in you."
A crushing blow to a child dependent on its parents for acceptance, love
and approval. Unfortunately, these words probably sound very familiar to
you. The problem is multigenerational in nature, rooted in your parents
upbringing. If a child says to you. "No!"
or "I don't feel
like it," for whatever reason, do you just leave him alone? Probably
not. The problem has to do with the very nature of how today's society is
constructed, our schools, military and corporations. It has to do hierarchy,
of labor. It has to do with how we value ourselves. We live in a shame
According to Grossman's article: Giving
Your Child Voice, "One of the most important psychological factors
in raising a family is giving children "voice." What is "voice"?
It is the sense of agency that resides in all of us, that makes us confident
that we will be heard, and that we will have impact on our environment.
Exceptional parents grant a child a voice equal to theirs the day that child
is born. And they respect that voice as much as they respect their own.
How can you give your child "voice"? There are three rules. First,
assume that what your child has to say about the world is just as important
as what you have to say. Second, assume that you can learn as much from
them as they can from you. Third, enter their world through play, activities,
discussions: don't require them to enter yours in order to make contact.
According to Ishikawa
and Fullmer (1998): :
"Listening is a skill. Family therapy uses a direct system to concretize
listening. It goes like this:
What did you hear "Jane" say?
What did you (second person) hear "Jane" say?, etc. etc.
Ask Jane if you heard what she meant for you to hear?
Continue to check out each message for each person.
The typical "normal" listening pattern is something like this:
"I know you think you heard what I said. But I'm not sure you know
what I meant. Therefore, we may not be on the same page or even in the same
So how can we develop the skill to listen better? When we communicate with
each other, there are two components to the message, the content and the
feelings. For example: a 2nd grader says: "I don't like school. It
isn't much fun." The first part of the message is the feeling: "don't
like." The second part is the content: "isn't much fun."
According to Cormier, the skill of listening has four components:
The first two components have to do with the content of the message. When
the message you receive is unclear, vague or ambiguous, a listening response
is to say "Can you clarify that for me? Do you mean that? Are you saying...?"
Not only do we wish to check the accuracy of the message, but we also want
to encourage the person we are talking with to elaborate. It sometimes takes
strength and courage to ask these questions, because we may be also encumbered
with our own personal baggage: for example, we don't want to look stupid.
When we paraphrase, we help the person focus on the key content of the message.
Reflecting has to do with the affective part of the message, the feelings.
When we reflect, we restate or clarify the feelings that are being expressed.
This is to encourage the other person to become more aware of them, to express
more of them, to express them with more intensity, or more accurately.
Lastly, summarizing is what ties everything together. It condenses what
has been said both in content and affect, with the purpose of identifying
major themes of the message, to interrupt excessive rambling or to review
progress in solving the problem.
Now check out my webpage on the Johari
Window, a model of interpersonal communication which appears to have
been spawned by ideas from Game
An example of listening is my true story: "The
The story Please Listen., reminds me
of a trick that I sometimes use, and that is to seek advice from someone
that I want to get to know better. It always works because it is a wonderful
way of making people feel good! People love to give advice, and surprisingly,
you do learn alot from these conversations. For example, this is a great
tactic to use during job interviewing. If the interviewer voices objections
to your qualifications, you simply ask for advice on overcoming this particular
fault. Often just this simple ability to humbly take advice will open all
kinds of new opportunities!
Bolton, Robert (1979) "People Skills: how to assert yourself, listen
to others and resolve conflicts,"Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice Hall,
Burley-Allen, Madelyn, (1982) "Listening: The Forgotten Skill,"NY:Wiley.
Cormier, William H. & Cormier, Sherilyn L. (1985). "Interviewing
Strategies for Helpers," 2nd Ed. Monterey CA: Brooks/Cole. pg. 89-111.
Grossman, Richard (1999). "Essays
on Psychology and Life"
Ishikawa, J.S. & Fullmer, Daniel W. "Family
Therapy as the Rites of Passage," in Educational Involvement, Published
by Pi Lambda Theta, Hawaii Chapter, volume Four, November 1998, pp. 31-43.
Fullmer, Daniel W., (1978) "Counseling: Group Theory and System, 2nd
Ed." Cranston, RI:Carroll Press,502 pgs.
Kaufman, Gershen (1990). Stick Up For Yourself: Every Kid's Guide to Personal
Power and Positive Self-Esteem. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.
Kaufman, Gershen (1996). "The Psychology of Shame" 2nd Ed. NY:Springer
Paloheimo, Martti (1994) Is
Last updated 26 August 1999
1999 by Duen
Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.
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