One simple verb, such as “listen,” can fuel the connections we have within our school community, our social spheres, and our families. When we attentively commit to listening to something or someone fully, then we send authentic signals that we are sincerely interested in learning what message they want to convey. How do we display our artful use of listening to others?

To listen means more than to hear. Hearing is a physical act when our ears register sound waves in the air. Listening is an act of the heart and mind, absorbing the other person’s words. To listen to someone means being fully open to receiving their message into your heart and mind, and giving those ideas a chance to resonate within you.

So, when you are listening, are you passively waiting for the person to finishing speaking, so that you can have your say? That style of passive listening is like tennis. “Tennis-listening” is merely waiting for the person’s ball to cross the net so that you can whack it back over. Or rather, are you fully allowing the person’s message to infiltrate your thoughts? Active listening means receiving the person’s spoken words so that you might gain new knowledge and become a better, more informed person.

Our children need us to listen to them with active ears and open hearts.

Oftentimes, they just need us to listen without giving quick reactions… they need time to process their thoughts into words. My wife, Angie, has mastered the art of listening to our daughter, Katie. When Katie was in her mid-teens, Angie would often crawl into Katie’s bed, and just lay beside her for an hour with the lights off. Katie would talk and talk and talk. And, as expected, she would often say the most odd and outlandish things, perhaps because she was a teen. Angie’s face would contort, and she would silently gasp, having feelings of anguish, joy, fear, and admiration — all within the hour. But the lights were off, and Katie never saw her mother’s face. Instead, she felt that her mom had spent the hour truly listening to her.

It is obvious to most people whether we are nonchalantly hearing or if we are authentically listening. Mark Twain aptly said, “We have two ears and one mouth, so use them proportionately.” Let’s all try to be better versions of ourselves as we practice the genuine art of listening.