The Art of Listening—3 Steps that Transform Relationships

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Welcome to part 3 of the Brain Stages Emotional Quotient Series. (If you missed parts 1 or 2, you can click 6 Ways to Help Kids Develop Empathy or 5 Ways to Help Kids Become Grateful and Generous, respectively.)

Researchers have found that EQ can be more important than IQ for success in today’s world. The best news — although intelligence can be enhanced a bit, there’s a genetic component, whereas emotional and social skills can be practiced and improved to the extent we’re willing to put in the effort.

And learning the art of listening is an EQ key to success!

Truly listening to others makes them feel valued. Therefore, listening to someone is a generous act.

On the other hand, studies show that people who are curious about others and practice engaged listening become the best communicators, the most effective leaders, and they have the most satisfying relationships.

Have you ever been frustrated by people interrupting you in the middle of a sentence? Can you tell when people are thinking more about what they’re going to say next than what you’re saying?

Most of us think we’re good listeners and wish others would be more attentive, but did you know that less than 25 percent of people are considered good listeners?

Do the math. More than three out of four of us aren’t great at it. We could all stand to improve.

What if you could teach your kids how to become engaged listeners, and you could improve your own listening skills at the same time?

In the Brain Stages book, I suggest parents begin to focus on teaching their kids how to be engaged listeners in third grade, but you can begin this process at any time. Eight and nine are just sort of “sweet-spot” ages for learning how to listen. Neural pathways begin to refine to enable kids to look outside of themselves more than previously.

The Art of Listening in Three Steps — Focus, Respond, and Be Curious.

(“FRC” for short. Kids get a kick out of the acronym – which helps them remember it.)

Explain the process below and practice focusing on, responding to, and being genuinely curious in conversations together to help your kids develop the art of listening—and enjoy what happens when you become a more attentive listener too.

Before long, none of you will have to think about FRC. In conversations, you’ll focus, respond, and be curious — and you’ll make an amazing impact on your lives as well as others’!

1. Focus on the speaker.

We listen with our eyes as well as our ears. Focusing your attention on the person who’s talking not only makes the talker feel validated, but it affects how well you remember what people say. Further, researchers estimate that 80 percent of communication happens through body language.

Evade potential distractions — model for your kids how you avoid looking at your cell phone when it vibrates with an incoming email or text until the conversation is over.

Wave a polite hand to others who join you, for them to wait to talk until the speaker finishes.

2. Respond to what the speaker is saying.

Use body language to convey your investment in the speaker — smile, nod, tilt your head.

Make sounds that convey interest — “Hmm” or “Huh.”

Offer single words and short phrases — “Really?” … “I had no idea” … “Interesting.”

Restate for clarification — “So you like basketball better than baseball because the game is faster.”

3. Be genuinely curious about people.

Ask questions and offer feedback. Good listening involves cooperative communication.

Communication researcher Todd Kashden of George Mason University says, “When you show curiosity and you ask questions, and find out something interesting about another person, people disclose more, share more, and they return the favor, asking questions of you. It sets up a spiral of give and take, which fosters intimacy.” 

Ask the speaker questions for more information. — “Do you play basketball on a team or just with friends?” … “How did you learn to play?”

Make points that support the speaker’s point of view and offer other ideas about the subject in a constructive way. — “I can see why basketball is a great workout for you, but there are lots of sports to keep people in shape. I like to run outside while talking with my buddies or running alone when I need to think.”

When you and your kids practice focusresponse, and curiosity with each other, friends, and acquaintances, you’ll hear people comment that your family is so nice, considerate, and intelligent.

Helping your kids learn to be truly present in conversations early will give them a skill that will pay off in every possible way—from dealing with bullies, to making friends, to getting their needs met with their teachers, to communicating with their boss at work someday, to becoming bosses themselves, or running their own businesses.

Becoming a good listener just takes a little know-how and practice.

And FRC makes it easy!

PATRICIA WILKINSON – mother of two, taught grades kindergarten through sixth for 23 years, in both public and private schools. She earned a BA in recreation from California State University, Long Beach, and did graduate work at California State Universities, Los Angeles and Chico, to earn a Clear Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and Language Development Specialist certificate from the State of California. Today, Trish facilitates life-changing workshops for parents and teachers. It’s amazing what can happen when years of creativity and practical experience merge with thousands of hours of brain research. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her awesome husband, Chuck, and their rambunctious golden retriever, Alice. Visit her at

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