You’re probably familiar with the idea of an agenda in a business meeting: you have a list of items that need to be discussed and settled. According to John Sanford in his book Between People, communication is the same way.
Almost every time someone tries to communicate, he has an agenda—something he hopes to accomplish or get out on the table. For example, if your daughter comes to you and says, “I want pizza tonight,” chances are she has told you exactly what her agenda is. But that probably isn’t the case if she says, “Dad, I’m tired of school.” There may be more on her agenda.
Problems arise for dads because many of us want the plain, cold facts, and our children don’t always communicate that way. We often block their agenda.
So, your daughter says, “I’m tired of school.” If you’re too busy, tired, or distracted to really listen to her, you won’t recognize that there’s more on her agenda. You might say to her, “You don’t have to like school, but you still have to go.” You’ve stopped listening, the conversation ends, and your daughter will probably go away disappointed.
But if you can listen for her agenda, you’ll look past the words and realize there’s more she wants to communicate.
A better response might sound like this: “Tired of school? You’ve always liked your teachers.” Then she has a chance to respond and clarify. It may take several more interchanges before you finally get to her real agenda: maybe her best friend is spending a lot of time with another girl and she doesn’t know how to handle it.
Remember, dad, keep listening. Feelings are complex and multi-layered. One item on your child’s agenda may lead to another, and then another. You might eventually find that your daughter is upset with you because you decided to move the family across town and she had to change schools and leave her old friends. Those feelings can be talked through when they’re out in the open, but only if you listen long enough to uncover the entire agenda.
Whenever your child speaks to you, try to keep this question in mind: “What’s the agenda?”
Then look beyond the words and really listen to what’s going on in his or her heart.
It may seem awkward at first, but keep practicing. Communication is the lifeblood of relationships, and this valuable tool will help you better understand your child—and strengthen your bond with him or her.
How would you rate your ability to listen and really hear what’s on your child’s heart? Get ideas from other like-minded dads on our Facebook page.
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Think about each one of your children and how he or she communicates with you. Is it easy to tell what they really want, or is there usually a lot below the surface?
- Do you consider yourself a good listener? Ask your kids—and your wife or someone else who knows you well—what they think.
- Are you a “just the facts” kind of guy? What are some pros and cons to that approach?
- Think about each of your kids separately—and possibly talk with their mom—and list a few issues that they are likely concerned about right now. Even if you never address it with them directly, make a point to be sensitive or offer extra encouragement for those issues.
- Schedule some one-on-one time with each of your kids for sometime in the next few weeks. (They often open up much more easily when it’s just the two of you.)
Active listening is one of the 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers. Read more on this and other key fathering factors in Ken Canfield’s book on the 7 Secrets.