An Example of Deep Listening

mother not listening to daughter

I introduced the topic of deep listening in my last blog post. I think of listening as suspending judgment and being fully present with another person to understand his or her experience or point of view.

Listening well is one of the best gifts we can give another person. Not only does deep listening strengthen our relationships but helps motivate and empower others to deal with and overcome the challenges they face. I want to illustrate this point by sharing an example of a conversation between a mother and daughter. (By the way, I shared an abbreviated version of this story on a recent Cultivate a Good Life podcast.)

How well does mom listen?

Jenny, a 16-year-old daughter approaches her mom. “Can we talk, mom?”

“Sure Jenny. Any time. What’s going on?”

“I’m not sure I want to keep playing soccer, Mom.”

“What do you mean? You’re so good. Why do you say that?”

“It’s not as fun as it used to be, that’s all. I’m getting bored with it.”

“I don’t know how you can be bored. The more you advance the more challenging the game becomes. I’ve watched your moves. Do you know how much better you are than just a year or two ago? I can’t believe how you’ve improved.”

“Mom, would you listen. Do you know how long I’ve been playing soccer? It’s been ten years.”

“Well you know what they say about 10,000 hours if you want to get really good at something.”

“MOM, I know what they say. But I’ve been at this long enough. It’s not for me. I’m tired of it.”

teenage girl playing soccer

“Oh, I can’t believe you’re saying that, Jenny. You can’t be serious. You’re so good and you’ve given it so much time.”

“I know Mom, but maybe it’s time for me to move on.”

“Well, young lady, this is not only about you. Think of your dad and I. We’ve also invested our time and lots of money into your competitive leagues and travel and all.”

“I know. I’ve been thinking about that and I’m really grateful.”

“And think about the world cup. How excited you got. That was anything but boring.”

“Yeah. I know. It was fun watching. But, Mom, do you have any idea what it takes to play at that level? What those girls have given? They’re professionals. I’m not going to be a professional.”

“Why do you say that? You could if you wanted. But even if you don’t become a professional, it’s a ticket to college. You could get a scholarship. It would be really silly for you to give up on soccer now. In fact, it wouldn’t be giving up on soccer. It’d be like giving up on yourself. You’d be throwing away so much. I can’t just stand by and watch you do that.”

What’s happening between Jenny and her mom?

So, let’s pause. What is happening? Notice how Mom is responding to Jenny mostly by arguing and lecturing. She doesn’t do it because she’s a bad mom. She loves her daughter dearly. But she’s threatened by what she’s hearing and she doesn’t know a better way to respond.

The question is, what’s likely to happen in the relationship between mother and daughter if this continues? How likely will Jenny be to open up to her mom in the future? Is that what her mom wants?

Of course, Mom has the best intent. And she also makes some good points. The problem is that Jenny isn’t able to talk about what she really thinks and feels because of Mom’s reaction. What if her mom backs off and does some deeper listening to Jenny? Let’s see how this might go.

Mother does some deep listening

So, let’s revisit this conversation. But this time, Mom listens.

“Can we talk, Mom?”

“Sure Jenny. Any time. What’s going on?”

“I’m not sure I want to keep playing soccer, Mom.”

“What do you mean? You’re so good. Why do you say that?”

“It’s not as fun as it used to be, that’s all. I’m getting bored with it.” (Notice that Jenny is testing the water. She wants to know if it’s safe to keep opening up to her mom.)

“Really. I’m surprised to hear you say this. I’ve not known that you had any reservations about playing.”

“I know. I haven’t said anything. But I am having my doubts.”

“I’m interested in understanding.” (Mom is not arguing, lecturing, coaxing, etc. She really wants to understand her daughter. Part of this comes from wanting to understand what’s really going on and part of it is that she trusts her daughter and believes in her. She knows that this is Jenny’s life and she is going to have to make her own decisions.)

“Well, I’ve been playing ten years now. That’s a long time.”

“It is a long time, lots of games and practices. You’ve been thinking about that.”

“I have been thinking about it. Some weeks it takes about 20 to 30 hours. It seems like it’s all I do.”

“It seems like a really huge commitment of your time and energy.”

“Yeah, exactly. I think about all the other things I could do with that time, like studying and sleeping.”

“You’re starting to think of what you’re giving up. Frankly, I thought you didn’t mind the hours since you love playing so much.”

Did love playing. I’m not enjoying it so much anymore.”

“Huh, I didn’t realize this.”

“I haven’t talked about it. I’ve dreaded bringing it up with you and Dad. I know how much you’ve put into it and how supportive you are.”

“That is true, Jenny. We have wanted to support you. But we also realize that we’re in a support role. This is really about you. It sounds like some things are changing for you.”

“They are.” There is a pause. Mom is silent, letting Jenny process. “Some of it is all the hours of practice but other things are going on, too.”

“Like what?”

“Remember Megan, the new girl on the team?”

“Yeah. She just moved here this year, right?”

“Yes. I thought she’d be great but turns out she’s into partying and drinking and some of the other girls are starting to follow her.”

“What’s happening exactly?”

Members of female high school soccer team

“Well, a few of them who I used to be friends with, are really getting drawn in. They’re a lot different than in the past. Their language, their attitude. They’re really different at practice and games. We used to be so supportive of each other but it doesn’t feel like that anymore. And they’ve started going out drinking on weekends.”

“It sounds like this is really surprising and disappointing to you.”

“I’ll say. I’m not sure what to do”.

Mom’s quiet, giving Jenny space to both feel and think about what’s going on.

“Truthfully, they’re trying to get me to come. You know when I went out last weekend?”

“Yeah?”

“I told you we were going to Beth’s brother’s birthday party. That was kind of true, but after about a half hour at her house we went to a park outside of town. Lots of kids from school were there, drinking and smoking pot.”

“Wow, how did that feel?”

“I was confused. I didn’t know what to think.”

“It sounds like this was totally new to you. You hadn’t been to a party like this before.”

“Exactly. Half of me wanted to get out of there but part of me was really curious, so I just hung out to see what would happen.”

Mom nods. Jenny is quiet.

Mom says, “This is really hard to talk about.”

“It is. I feel so bad. They offered me beer but I kept pushing it away. I hadn’t gotten into stuff like that before.”

“But you were feeling a lot of pressure.”

“Well, kind of. I said ‘No,’ but…(Jenny is quiet for a moment), it wasn’t just the peer pressure. I felt really curious and so, you know what, I tried it.” Jenny looks down and starts to cry.

Mom tears up. She wants to reach out and hug her daughter but decides to wait and allow her some space.

“I love you, Jenny. I want you to know that.”

Jenny, still looking down. “I know. Thanks Mom.”

After a moment of silence, Mom asks, “Is there more you want to tell me?”

Jenny looks down and cries again. “This is really hard. I also tried some pot, Mom.”

“And what was that like?”

“I don’t know. Not much, really. I felt a little light-headed. But then I really felt bad afterwards. It scared me to think I could do that—get into drinking and drugs. I didn’t ever imagine myself doing that. It all happened so fast.”

“Jenny, I’m so glad you’re sharing this with me.” Mom reaches out and takes a hand. “I want to support you. Tell me how. What do you need from me right now?”

“Just to be here and listen to me, Mom. I was so scared to share this with you. I don’t want you to be disappointed in me.”

“I don’t want you to be afraid to talk to me,”

“Aren’t you mad at me?”

“Mad isn’t the word. I’m surprised but also really happy you’ve shared with me…. I’m also concerned, wondering how you’re going to handle this. I want you to keep talking to me.”

Let’s understand deep listening

So, let’s step back and talk about this. What did her mother do differently on this go-around? What was the impact on Jenny? On their relationship? On Jenny’s ability to deal with a very real challenge in her life?

How nice that Jenny’s mother listened rather than over-reacting, arguing, lecturing, criticizing, giving advice, or trying to rescue and make everything all better.

Jenny’s now dealing with a deeper and more real issue than wanting to quit soccer. I call this bedrock. Bedrock is getting deep enough in a conversation to know that you’re dealing with real issues. Getting to bedrock requires respect, safety, and openness. You don’t get to bedrock when you don’t listen, when you rush in with your solutions.

Of course, deep listening can be hard. Jenny’s mom heard her daughter say some things that she didn’t want to hear. But not hearing them would not make them go away, just underground. By being present and listening, her mother gave Jenny a number of beautiful gifts—respect, emotional validation, compassion, and an opportunity to step up to a difficult challenge in her life. And Jenny doesn’t have to do this on her own. Her mother can now support her by helping her think through what she wants and actions she can take to make it happen.

In the meantime, what about you? Have you had the experience of really feeling heard by someone in your life? What was that like?

And are you willing to be this person to others? Are you willing to create non-judgment and emotional safety so others can talk to you about what’s really on their minds or in their hearts?

Learn how to listen deeply by enrolling in my upcoming course, “The Power of Deep Listening.”

(And let me know if you’d like to be an early reviewer and get a free enrollment in the course. Just shoot me an email.)


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

6 responses to “An Example of Deep Listening”

  1. Judy Sabah says:

    Thanks for this Roger, beautiful article. I trust it will help many to begin to understand the importance of deep listening and the connection it creates between people.

  2. Ed Engel says:

    Roger,
    Your expertise makes it look so easy! More scenarios with different questions and responses would be helpful – you are masterful at coming up with them. Average folks like us aren’t good at coming up with them on the fly like you are, but we can all learn from your example and expertise. Well done!

    • Thanks, Ed. Actually, half the lectures in my course on the power of deep listening are made up of examples and case studies. I try to hit it from lots of angles so you can get more of a feel for how to listen. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Dênia says:

    Seria incrível ter seus cursos traduzidos para o português.

    • Hi Denia,

      I’m pleased you’d like my courses translated into Portuguese. It is not something I can afford to do at this time due to a lack of demand. However, you may watch my courses on Udemy because some have been closed caption translations into another language, although not Portuguese. Perhaps in the future.

      If you read English, they all have English captions.

      Roger Allen

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