Chapter 4: Communication

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The Purpose of Listening

"We have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them proportionally" - Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Have you ever had a conversation with a teen that ended in them suddenly becoming frustratedand telling you that you are not listening to them? You are shocked and baffledand don't understand because you were so engaged in the conversation. I meanyou were asking questions, giving suggestions, providing solutions, and reallytrying to help...or?

You meant well and thought you were being kind and helpful by coming upwith solutions for the teen's problems. However, coming up with solutions doesnot necessarily mean that you really listened to the teen's story and/or understoodthe teen's perspective. "Helping" for you means "solving" theteen's problems. You need to consider that focusing on finding solutions doesnot necessarily communicate to the teen that you are interested in seeing theproblem through their eyes or experiences.

This well-intentioned need to solve, or fix, a teen's problems is called the "righting-reflex" (Miller & Rollnick, 2013, p.5-6). The "righting-reflex" may surface because it bothers you to watch an important teen close to you struggle, and you are compelled to relieve your own discomfort by fixing it. In that moment, it is easier for you to put on your "fixer hat" and fix things quickly to save time and ease the suffering for you both. 

In that moment, you may make it easier for the teen, but this also hassome negative effects. Indirectly, you are conveying to the teen that they areunable to handle the situation themselves. Ultimately, what you have done istaken away the teen's responsibility for the problem. You have removed theoption of working out the best solution and the possibility for them to growand change. This urgent need to help, giving way to our "righting-reflex," or putting on our "fixerhat" is not listening with empathy or listening with the intent tounderstand.

Exercise: Wearing your "Fixer Hat" During a Conversation

Objective: To reflect over a conversation or situation when your urgent needto help took over, your "righting-reflex" kicked in, or you put on your "fixerhat."

Instructions: Reflect over the following questions.

What situation or situations triggered your "righting-reflex"?

In what way have you unintentionally worn your "fixer hat" and taken over a conversation?

What could you have done instead of putting on your "fixer hat"?

When have you, on a previous occasion, been able to override your "righting-reflex"? How did you do it?

Meaning Well or Inhibiting

When talking with teens, we may intend to and think we are really listening to what they have to say. However, even though our motivation is to "help" the teen, we may end up doing something different. For example, offering solutions which has the opposite effect. It is important to reflect on the fact that being kind and "meaning well" may not translate into knowing what is best for a teen (Ortiz & Skoglund, 2017). Sometimes our kindness, although well-intentioned, can be misinterpreted with the teen believing we just do not get it. This affects communication negatively and inhibits the relationship.

Roadblocks to Listening

Listening is a very important part of communication with a teenager, but it can sometimes be the most difficult part. Because of this, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with 12 common listener responses, or "roadblocks," that get in the way of good listening and block communication (Gordon, 2019).

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⏰ Last updated: Aug 14, 2021 ⏰

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