working with teenagers: not listening

I noticed something terrible about myself recently. I’m not always a good listener. Actually, now that I think about it … make that two things — I’m acting like an adult. Oh noes! Abort! Quick, look at lolcats! Watch cartoons!

I think I might be safe, actually. I’m eating Life cereal for dinner at 11p.m., spent most of my day at work drawing Christmas cards, then in the evening I was making dumb jokes with my little brother while we walked to the gas station to buy soda and Cheetos. There’s hope for me yet.

However, I have honestly noticed that there have been a few times recently, where my default mode has switched from listening to “Oh, since you’re talking to me, you must want my manly, adultly advice on everything.” Which really sucks. Because when someone confuses listening with asking for input, things are just going to go all sorts of wrong.

Listening takes work. Not because it’s hard, but because I have to be self-aware of how I’m talking. Essentially, it is real-time meta-talk analysis. Or, it can be, if I’m trying really, really hard to watch how I am paying attention.

I have noticed one thing that works for me, though. If I can just *realize* that someone is talking to me, and just wants me to listen, then I can kind of switch into this mode where I actually can do that, and politely extend an offer of giving feedback first. It’s a cognitive attitude shift. No watching myself with every single sentence, but just changing my mindset and then applying those principles of good communication.

The skills have to be already learned, though, and I’ve actually been working on that. I like that it doesn’t take a huge deal of effort to get into that mode, it just takes me having to notice that either the other person wants me to, or it’s a good idea to do it.

I read or heard this great quote the other day, or maybe I made it up, I don’t know. I don’t think I did, though. But it was “teenagers will gravitate to whoever takes them seriously.” If my life has been any indication, that is so true.

One thing I’ve noticed is that people love to talk about themselves. If you can get them talking about that subject, they likely won’t shut up. Which, if you’re trying to help out someone, that’s actually a good thing, since you want their perspective on stuff.

The trick is that your interest has to be genuine. Teenagers can smell someone being presumptuous like a donkey on waffle day. If your interest isn’t genuine to start with, then you’re heading down the wrong paths already.

So, my rude awakening of late has been that I don’t listen, naturally, all the time. In reviewing conversations from the past week, I’ve noticed that when some people are trying to collude with me, instead of saying “wow, that would [suck|be awesome|make me want to eat pez],” instead I jump into something like, “yah, you don’t wanna [do that|go there|drink mouthwash].” I’ve realized, with some horror as noted, that this is kind of just an adult instinct. And frankly, that drives me crazy. Not because it means an adult (something I’m struggling to accept anyway, because adults = boring), but that there is a natural drift that I was unaware of, that if unchecked, is only going to hamper my ability to serve. The whole thing has kind of put me on guard, wanting to review the past a bit more and see where else I could be putting people off when they are trying to open up.

To be honest, it’s hard. Imma keep watching out though.

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