How to Hear What People are NOT Saying

I am one of those people to whom words mean things, I see things more black and white, and I tend to think people actually say what they mean.

But I am learning that they don’t always say what they mean, and sometimes we have to listen to the heart instead of the words.

I’ve known this instinctively about children for a long time.  Despite my tendencies, somehow God has given me a gift to understand children sometimes, especially those I know well. Sometimes I guess wrong, but that’s what conversation is for—finding out how the person really feels.

But sometimes words can get in the way.

When a child or friend says something we misinterpret—even if we misinterpret because we simply take their meaning by what the words actually mean—sometimes we can get all busy reacting to the words and miss hearing what they are actually meaning and trying to say.

So, here are some tips from my own experience, for deep conversations or for understanding your child:

  1. Slow down and think about what they are saying.
  2. Take into account their life history. It sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not. Many circumstances and events affect how we communicate.  For instance, our daughter has been stuck in a wheelchair since birth.  She is overcoming much of the difficulties of that both physically and emotionally, but of course sometimes she still feels trapped.  Who wouldn’t?  So sometimes when something seemingly “odd” comes out of her mouth, what she is really saying is, “I feel trapped.”
  3. Ask questions. Instead of replying right away, one might ask, “Did you mean…?”  A good friend taught me this one years ago.  It helps avoid misunderstandings to put in your own words what you think someone means and ask them if you are correct and if not, to clarify.
  4. Look at their face but try not to jump to conclusions either. I used to look at one of my children’s faces after they got into trouble and see anger.  However, what I didn’t know (at first) was that the anger was usually directed at themselves for messing up, NOT at me for correcting.  That means they were repentant and needed consolation, not more lecturing.
  5. Try to hear the emotion behind the words.

Think of it like a puzzle, like some TV personalities figure stuff out about people.  🙂 

With children, they have not learned to express feelings yet.  Deeply listening can make a huge difference in your relationship with your child or teenager.

The main point is to understand and respond to people kindly and think of their feelings. 

But with adults, it may also help you navigate the negative things behind words—such as manipulation, narcissism, and verbal abuse. Just as something that “sounds” bad can really be good or just a way of expressing feelings, something that “sounds” good can really be bad.

As they say, “Conversation is a fine art.”  May we approach conversation with thoughtfulness and love.


Christa Upton    Black Hills Picture Books    Edgemont, SD  57735

About Christa Upton

I am a wife and mother of three children ages 11, 14, and 18. I used to be a stay-at-home mom (teaching piano & dance, volunteering, etc). From 2007 to 2010, I suffered accidental Toxic Injury (also called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS). MCS has had major impact on our family, but the forced time in bed has given me time to write. So far, I have published 4 children's books (2 in e-book format on Kindle, one in Print-on-Demand at CreateSpace, and one printed by a local printer). Sometimes I miss my old life, but I love writing for children!
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