Listening is Key to the Art of Communication
A couple of things have happened today that have prompted me to write this blog post. Firstly, I read a post by Sarah Newton on her excellent blog “The Youth Expert”, then I attended a two hour course by Sian Goodbourn on Effective Communication. Both are essentially about the importance of listening.
Teenage Girls are notoriously difficult to communicate with. If you have teenage daughters or nieces you will probably know what I mean. If you’re a woman you will probably cringe when you think about some of the strops and tantrums you pulled as a teenager.
Communication is all about listening……
In the Effective Communication course Sian asked us to think about how we listen and gave us a scale of the “Levels of Listening”. The bottom three levels were as follows:-
Ignoring – not listening and making this obvious
Pretending to Listen – not listening and trying to look like you are
Selective Listening – listening to most of what is said but only paying particular attention to some of it.
If you think about the last conversation you had with a teenage girl how many of you would say your listening took one of the above forms?
I suspect most of us use selective listening. It can be very tempting to only listen to most of what is being said particularly if we are busy and distracted by work, cooking, television, or other children etc. I think this is true in all aspects of our lives but even more so when we are communicating with a teenager when we have preconceived ideas that what they say will be immature or that we wont learn anything new by listening to them.
In Sarah’s blog she outlines the main qualities that teenage girls think a good listener should have. These include:-
- We want them to listen with their mouth shut
- We want them to understand
- We want them to give us an opinion but not tell us what to do
- We want them to express themselves and not just agree with everything we say
- We want them to have good body language and eye contact
- We want them to be funny and cheer us up and not to be too serious
This corresponds almost exactly with Sian’s “Empathic Listening” where she encourages us to listen, paying good attention to everything the speaker says and to encourage the speaker, to concentrate and focus solely on what the speaker is saying and on the message they are trying to get across and probably, most importantly not to pre-form a response to what we are being told.
You may be wondering how this fits with getting teenage girls to do what you want. Communication must beginning with listening. Only by listening will we discover what is important for teenagers and we can then guide them to make the right decisions for them; therefore making it their idea.
If I was to tell a teenage girl that she mustn’t eat snack foods on her way home from school I suspect I wouldn’t get very far. She would probably consider that I was ordering her about, not understanding how she felt after school and making her different to her friends. She would most likely dig her heels in and refuse to co-operate.
If instead I started by asking what she knew about healthy eating encouraging her to think about how a healthy diet could improve her energy levels, complexion etc I would probably find that there was something that would motivate her to think about what she ate. From here we could start thinking about why she needed a snack after school, was it because she was bored, was it habit or was she actually hungry? Next we could start to think about what sort of snack might be a compromise for health and convenience and so the conversation would go on……
As Personal Trainers and Fitness Coaches we are uniquely placed to make a difference. By encouraging teenage girls to tell us how they feel and by listening and focusing on what we are being told we can find out far more about what is important and what we can do to help them achieve their goals.
Rather than assuming teenage girls feel the same way we do we can learn more about what is important to them and together we can find actions that solve the problems they face - ultimately leading to happier, healthier, successful, and confident teenage girls which is what we wanted all along!
After spending her teenage years as an international athlete Maggie Ayre qualified as a Personal Trainer and Nutrition Adviser. For the last two years she has specialised in teenage girls working as a Fitness Coach for Teenage Girls. Recently Maggie has developed the 3G Program and she is currently looking for schools to take part in a pilot project in September 2011. More information about Maggie’s work with teenagers can be found at www.maggieayre.com or www.femalefitnessrevolution.com.