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By Jessica T

Active listening

Uploaded: Sep 2, 2014

My eleven-year-old daughter and I have been clashing. Since returning to work, the one hour in the evening that I have to spend with my kids is now divided by three. She's a preteen, and her instincts are telling her to push me away. And yet I know she still needs me. She's too young to turn to her friends for the comfort and camaraderie she gets from her parents.

This summer she returned from a week away disappointed that my husband and I had gotten a babysitter and were headed for a night out. A year ago, we wouldn't have needed a date night so desperately. We might have chosen to stay in on the night she returned. A year ago, we might have taken her with us rather than getting a sitter. She was accustomed to evenings with adults. But now that she is no longer an only child, she has been lumped in with the rest of our children.

After a day of work, I'll be the first to admit that I'm too tired to deal with her drama. I react to what she's saying and try to find ways to refute her. I try to explain why things are as they are so I can find a little peace.

But the Friday night after her return, I was a little less exhausted, no doubt because of her absence the previous week. I sat next to her on the couch as she cried. For the first time in months, I heard her. She was sad. We hadn't met her expectations. And she didn't understand why so much in our family had changed. And I finally understood that she wasn't angry or intentionally making us feel guilty - she was just struggling, and she needed us to show her we really cared. This was the breakthrough I had been praying for. And it wasn't on her end - it was on mine. At last, I had really listened.

I was having lunch with a friend recently, and he explained to me why his boss often works nights. "He doesn't give meetings his full attention," he told me, "so he has to send emails at night to ask for clarification." This was another "aha" moment as I reflected on how my former very senior boss never brought his computer to meetings. He gave meetings his full attention so he could comment thoughtfully and help the team make decisions.

I've often wondered what active listening really means and how one learns to do it. It turns out it's quite simple - you slow down and you concentrate on what the other person is saying and not on how you'll respond. And you put down your devices so you can give someone your full attention. This is difficult to do in our day and age. We have limited time and plenty of distracting, electronic gadgets. The truth is, your nagging problems (whether it's parenting or business challenges) won't get solved without your full attention and a little introspection.

That summer weekend, I was able to give my daughter just what she needed - understanding.