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Podcast Episode 062: How to get your kids to listen, with Dr Justin Coulson

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The most common question I get asked is “How do I get my kids, my manager, or my team to listen to me?”.

In this episode, Oscar speaks with global parenting expert, Justin Coulson. Father to 6 daughters, TED talk speaker and author of 6 books. Justin answers the question, ‘How do I get my kids to listen?’

A great way to begin an engaged conversation is to start with observation. You can learn about listening by noticing. Learn the importance of eye contact, eye level and how this honours the relationship whilst expressing the desire to communicate.

Justin explains that parents may have to stop what we’re doing because we miss opportunities to connect with our kids if we never stop.

Transcript

Justin Coulson:

There’s a point that I want to expand on that you’ve made, that I think’s really valuable. Not only are we listening role models for our children, we’re role models in everything that we do, but when you think about our children’s experience with adults generally, whether it’s parents, school teachers, anybody who’s in authority, really, it seems to me that most of the time the adults in our children’s lives don’t do a lot of listening. They do a lot of what I call correction and direction, and I’m not sure that that’s what most important for our children. I think that connection matters more than correction and direction.

Justin Coulson:

It seems that as soon as somebody has a little bit of authority, a little bit of power, a bit of a height advantage and an age advantage, they dive in with lots of advice. I remember one day I was walking along the street with my eldest daughter, and she looked at me, she said, “Dad, why do you always feel like you have to be teaching me stuff?” And I took that as a wonderful compliment in the moment. I said to her, “Well, I’m your dad. My job is to teach you. I’ve got to prepare you for the world, for being an adult.” But as I’ve reflected on that over the years, it’s occurred to me that what she really wanted me to do was just be with her, and listen to her, and understand her life. In the moment I certainly didn’t pick that up.

Oscar Trimboli:

Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words. I’m Oscar Trimboli and this is the Apple award winning podcast, Deep Listening. Designed to move you from an unconscious and distracted listener, to a deep and impactful listener. Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening, yet only two percent of us have had any training in how to listen. Frustration, misunderstanding, wasted time and opportunity, along with creating poor relationships are just some of the costs of not listening. Each episode of the series is designed to provide you with practical, actionable, and impactful tips to move you through the five levels of listening. I invite you to visit oscartrimboli.com/facebook to learn more about the five levels of listening and how to learn from others who are listening better to help make you a deep and impactful listener.

Oscar Trimboli:

Whether I’m jumping off stage after a speaking event, or people corner me in a break during a corporate training programme, two questions are guaranteed. First one, “Oscar, I’m a great listener, but can you help me get my boss to listen to me?” And the second one, “Oscar, how? Please, how? How do you get my kids to listen to me?” In today’s episode of deep listening we’re going to go and explore the second question in a lot more detail. How do you get your kids to listen to me? Joining me today is global parenting expert, author of six books on the topic, as well as dad to six daughters and married for 21 years, Dr. Justin Coulson. Justin has an amazing TED Talk called Raising Rebels. Although he’s an expert, Justin’s humble enough to use examples from his own life to create teaching moments and stories for us to learn from.

Oscar Trimboli:

We explore the fact that you, in fact, are your children’s best listening teacher. You’re role modelling it in every moment, in every meal, in every month. Justin takes the time to help us understand the importance of eye contact when it comes to listening, and especially getting your eye contact down to your child’s level, not for them to be looking up to you. Same is true, by the way, if you’re facetiming or calling them on the phone. If you’re in a hotel room and you’re talking to a five year old, my strong recommendation would be sit on the floor, squat or kneel down and make sure your eye level is at their level, and that’ll create an amazing connection for you to listen better. But why take my tips for it? Why don’t you listen to a global expert in parenting? Justin’s going to take us through the three Es or explain, explore, and empower when it comes to listening in highly emotional situations with your children. Let’s listen to Justin.

Oscar Trimboli:

What do you think parents struggle with when it comes to listening to their children?

Justin Coulson:

Many of us as adults have got a lot of responsibilities and a lot of stuff going on that really does require our focus and attention. But I don’t know, I mean, what’s more important? Doing the dishes, sending that email, or stopping what you’re doing, looking into the eyes of your child, and listening to what they’ve got to say to you even if it is boring and unimportant in your world. When our children come to us and they are experiencing some challenge or difficulty, as parents it’s almost second nature that we dive in and fix their problems, we tell them the solutions, we try to make things better for them. Or alternatively, that we start to become autobiographical, “Oh, yeah, I know. When I was a kid that happened to me to, you’ll be all right.” And so I love the way John Gottman phrases it. Gottman is widely ascribed as one of the world’s foremost relationship gurus, and he talks about how we turn away from, or turn against, our children or our partners in close relationships when it comes to listening.

Justin Coulson:

They say something to us, and we turn away in that we become dismissive, or we can do it nicely, or we can do it nastily. Dismissing nastiness is, “Oh, for goodness sakes, not again.” Or, “Talk to the hand, I’m busy. Not now.” But we can also sugar coat that dismissiveness, we can say, “Oh, you poor thing. Don’t worry, you’ll be all right.” And that still feels equally dismissive, it’s almost like, “You didn’t even listen, you’re just telling me I’ll be okay. You’ve got no idea what I’m going through, you’re not feeling my emotion in your heart, you’re just telling me I’ll be all right. I’m not going to be okay.” So we kind of… we go back into these shortcuts where we feel like as the parent our job is not to listen to our child, and not to let them experience the full range of emotions that all humans experience, but rather our job is to dive in and fix it, which we do often in a dismissive way. Or alternatively, we become impatient, we say, “Would you cut that out? I don’t have time for that. I’m not listening. I’ve got other things to do.”

Justin Coulson:

But you know what? Sometimes the things that we push our children away so that we can concentrate on are not nearly as important as we make them out to be.

Oscar Trimboli:

One of the things I always say to parents when they ask me, “How do I teach my children to be a better listener?” Is I remind them that they’re a listening role model to their children. Now we don’t have a listening teacher, what’s a few tips and practical hints you could help provide the parents who are listening about how to be great listening role models to their children?

Justin Coulson:

There’s a point that I want to expand on that you’ve made, that I think’s really valuable. Not only are we listening role models for our children, we’re role models in everything that we do, but when you think about our children’s experience with adults generally, whether it’s parents, school teachers, anybody who’s in authority, really, it seems to me that most of the time the adults in our children’s lives don’t do a lot of listening. They do a lot of what I call correction and direction, and I’m not sure that that’s what most important for our children. I think that connection matters more than correction and direction.

Justin Coulson:

It seems that as soon as somebody has a little bit of authority, a little bit of power, a bit of a height advantage and an age advantage, they dive in with lots of advice. I remember one day I was walking along the street with my eldest daughter, and she looked at me, she said, “Dad, why do you always feel like you have to be teaching me stuff?” And I took that as a wonderful compliment in the moment. I said to her, “Well, I’m your dad. My job is to teach you. I’ve got to prepare you for the world, for being an adult.” But as I’ve reflected on that over the years, it’s occurred to me that what she really wanted me to do was just be with her, and listen to her, and understand her life. In the moment I certainly didn’t pick that up. And it’s only with age and experience that I’ve seen that there.

Justin Coulson:

The first is that we listen best by noticing things. Now when our child comes home from school, they walk in the door with their shoulders slumped, dragging their bag behind them, if the bag even makes beyond the doorway in the first place, their feet slapping against the floor. We probably don’t need to say, “How was your day?” Our ability to listen to those non-verbal cues probably should give us enough information for us to recognise that they’ve had a tough day, and instead of saying, “What’s the matter with you?” Or, “Hey, how was your day?” We might just tell them what we see, to show them that we’ve listened already. We might say something like, “Wow, it looks like you’ve had a really tough day today.” Now, if they haven’t, they’ll quickly jump in and let us know that, “No, it was fine, really.” But what’s more likely to occur, I think, Oscar, is that they’re going to say, “Yeah, at recess…” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. “And then you wouldn’t believe it, but the teacher said this to me when I was in maths class.”

Justin Coulson:

So I think that the number one tip that I can suggest for parents is, and this doesn’t just apply for parents, anybody who’s in any close, personal relationship with another human will know that this applies wherever we are. Let’s look at what’s going on and see if we can listen to those non-verbal cues, they’ll tell us so much.

Oscar Trimboli:

I love how Justin’s bringing the everyday to life, zooming us right into his home life and what it’s like to be there with all these daughters. Listen carefully now, and we’re going to come up to a once in a lifetime situation where Justin’s honest enough to take us behind the scenes and listen in where his oldest daughter has an announcement to make.

Justin Coulson:

Over the weekend, my oldest daughter who is still too young for this, I think, but she’s an adult and she’s old enough really, legally, my eldest daughter has come to me and told me that she was proposed to by her longtime boyfriend, and she’s accepted that marriage proposal, and I’m about to become a father-in-law later in the year, probably nine or 10 months, 12 months down the track. They’re working on a wedding date now. But it was really interesting, I commented to both of them that as they organise a wedding over the next year, or thereabouts, they’re going to experience challenges in their relationship like they’ve never experienced before. This is going to be a time of great conflict for them and time of great difficulty for them. And the way they deal with these challenges is going to be some sort of an indication of the way their relationship will probably go over the next few years as they learn how to get along with each other during times of tension and trial.

Justin Coulson:

As it happens, about 20 minutes later, as they were discussing dates, and venues, and locations, and guest lists, and all those kinds of things, my daughter became really, really, really upset, and it was so funny to watch her boyfriend, her fiance, as he struggled with the emotion that she was demonstrating. And he’s such a typical bloke, you know? He doesn’t have a PhD in psychology like me, he’s only in his early 20s and he’s trying to navigate these big emotions in my daughter. And he kind of became dismissive. He was like, “Oh, you’ll be all right. Oh, come on, stop being so silly.” And began to get just a little bit annoyed. She became so frustrated that she said, “That’s it. I just… I’ll be back later.” And she walked out of the room. And I looked at him, exchanged glances, he kind of stared at me like, “What did I do?” And I quietly said to him, “Jared, any time you need any lessons in empathy, just let me know. We can have a chat.”

Justin Coulson:

It was so funny to see him struggle with… the body language was there, all of the things that he could have said to lighten the mood, or to connect with her, or to respond to her emotions, based on not even what she was saying, but just the way she was looking. All of the signals were there for him to step in and show some empathy, show a little bit of gentleness and patience. He missed all of those signals because he’s a young guy whose solution focused and just wants to get this fixed up. While I’ve used the example of the child coming in from school and feeling miserable, I think that that’s perhaps a slightly more realistic example for most people who are listening who are in an adult couple relationship. We get so caught up in our agenda, or telling somebody to get over themselves and just get on with the task at hand, especially males. There are still clearly gender difference, and males, on average, do seem to really struggle to listen, especially to the body language and those signals that their partners are sending them in those moments where things start to get tense.

Justin Coulson:

Now, the second thing that I would probably highlight, other than just paying attention to that body language and listening to that, is a really simple phrase that we all learned back in the 1970s, or ’80s, or whatever it was when we were growing up, when we had to learn to cross the road. There was a little jingle that was on the TV, at least where I grew up, and the jingle was saying, “Stop, look, and listen before you cross the road.” We stop, look, and listen before we cross the road because there are these great, big one, or two, or even 24 tonne vehicles moving sometimes at great speed along the highway, that if we were to step in front of, we’d get cleaned up pretty quickly, and can cause terrible damage, even death. In the same way, along the highway of life, there are some very fast moving, very dangerous vehicles, or things for us to navigate our way through.

Justin Coulson:

They can be things like anxiety, or depression, or alcoholism, or they can be little things like temper tantrums, sadness, they can be things like somebody being bullies at school or at work. They can be a person’s preferences around any number of things. And what our children particularly, but also our partners need us to do, is to, when they’re speaking to us, especially about something that matters, but bear in mind that if they can’t trust us to listen to the little things, they won’t trust us with the big things. When they’re trying to communicate to us, we need to stop, absolutely stop what we’re doing. Put the email away, put the phone down, turn off the television, stop chopping the carrots, whatever it is we’re in the middle of, just stop for five, or 10, or 15 seconds, look them in the eyes so that they know that we’re paying attention to them, that we’re honouring the relationship and their desire to communicate with us, and then listen to what they’re saying.

Justin Coulson:

Now, I remember some years ago, my second daughter who is now, oh golly, she’s about to turn 17. But when she was only about two or three, I was in the kitchen, I was cooking, now Oscar, I’m a woeful cook, I’m blessed with a wife who cooks extraordinarily well, and loves to cook, and has been quite happy for me to not improve in that particular skillset. So I’m in the kitchen this particular night, I’m cooking, I’ve got the oil in the pan, I’ve got the onions in the oil, I’ve squirted some garlic in there as well, and now I’m looking at the instructions in the instruction book. Sorry, this is how good I am in the kitchen, the recipe book, sorry. I’m looking at the recipe, at what I’m supposed to do next. While I’m stirring, and reading, and trying to get this right, and I’ve got all the ingredients in front of me, I become aware that my little girl [Abby 00:17:08], two or three years old, is sort of tugging on my pant leg and just saying, “Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad.” And I’m like, “Abby, not now I’m busy. I’m doing important things. I’m cooking our dinner.”

Justin Coulson:

And I’m trying to read, and stir, and deal with her, and it occurred to me after about 20 seconds that I’m a parenting expert and my daughter wants my attention. I can probably turn the stove off, or turn away from what I’m doing just now and pay attention to her, I can stop, look, and listen. So I put the wooden spoon down, I turn the element down on the stove top, I crouched in front of Abby, I stopped what I was doing, crouched in front of her, picked up her two little hands and held them in mine. I looked her in the eyes and I said, “Abby, I’m sorry for not listening to you properly, I know you’ve been trying to talk to me. I’m listening now, would you like to tell me what it is that you want to say?” And Abby looked at me, put her head on one side, smiled and said, “I love you, dad.” And then she skipped off into the living room. She only needed five seconds of my time, and she just wanted to tell me that she loved me. And I almost missed that opportunity because I was so busy doing other things that I thought were more important.

Justin Coulson:

The key lesson for me is how many opportunities do we miss to connect with our children because we’re busy? When quite often, parents say all the time, “If I had to stop and listen to my child every time they wanted my attention I would never get anything done.” But the reality is when we stop, most of the time they only want us for between five and 10, maybe 20 seconds. They don’t actually need us for long at all, and if they do need us for longer than that, then it’s probably pretty important that we stopped. If they want us for something that we can’t pay attention to now, we can always say, “I’m really glad you’ve shared that with me, I understand that you need me. In about 12 minutes’ time I’ll be finished what I’m doing here, and I can help you then. Would that be okay?” But there’s something about honouring the relationship, whether it’s with a child or a partner. When we stop, we look, and we listen, what we’re saying is, “You matter. I’m here to respond to you. I’m here to honour our relationship.”

Oscar Trimboli:

Justin, I think you did a great job of explaining the importance of that connection for the, “I love you.” moment. But I think there are some other things you did, maybe subconsciously, and they’re really powerful. The moment you stopped and crouched down to your daughter’s eye level and grabbed her hand.

Justin Coulson:

Oscar, generally, this is a human thing, and I’m not convinced that age matters a great deal, although there’s certainly data to indicate that having a connection, making eye contact, especially with infants and toddlers, is absolutely vital, super important, and is associated with them feeling that sense of connection. But I think you and I, and anybody who’s listening, would know that when you make a connection with your eyes, it draws attention, it draws focus, and it highlights… it highlight focus. It says, “I’m noticing you. I’m paying attention to you.” Not only did I crouch down, not only did I meet her eyes and make sure that we were gazing at one another, but I also touched her. You mentioned that I held her hands, and I’m explicit about mentioning that in the story because the data tell us very, very clearly that humans love to be touched.

Justin Coulson:

Now, not all humans, but most of us love to be touched and it’s another way of acknowledging the person. It’s a way that we recognise their humanity, it’s the way that we demonstrate intimacy. And what happens when we both make eye contact and touch in a safe way? And I really need to emphasise that, but the person who is the recipient of the eye contact and the touch must feel safe as they receive those two gifts. What happens to them is neurologically their brain starts to release a whole lot of neurotransmitters, a whole lot of hormones, that help them to feel calm and centred, the brain releases serotonin. It outlays a whole lot of dopamine, and most people think that dopamine is this excitatory, stimulatory chemical, but it also is involved in regulation of emotion and calming in the right context. So the dopamine, and serotonin, and this other, you’d almost call it a drug it’s such a powerful neurotransmitter, oxytocin, gets released when we look into somebody eyes and when we touch them.

Justin Coulson:

In fact, when we do either, but particularly the two of those things together is a potent combination. As we do that, all of these neurotransmitters soften the emotional state of the brain. And something that I talk to parents about all the time, and again, it applies in any relationship context, is that when emotions go up, intelligence goes down. But when emotions become calm and soothing, intelligence goes up. This is really important when we’re dealing with any kind of a conflict situation or any type of a challenging interpersonal situation, because we want the people that we are engaging with to be able to access their cognitive faculties. We want them to be able to think. So by touching, by making eye contact, by being at their level, by speaking softly and gently, by smiling, by emphasising the positive, what we do is we release all of these neurotransmitters and the brain becomes nice and calm and centred. And that means that we can have a really productive and effective conversation, rather than dealing with the big emotions that are so often going to lead to low intelligence and less effective outcomes.

Oscar Trimboli:

Good day, it’s Oscar again, I want to reemphasize the importance of being at eye level, whether you’re in the room, or not with your child. If you’re in the room with your child, either come down to their eye level, get as low as you can, maybe squat or kneel down, or maybe go on to a really small chair. And if you can’t, and your knees aren’t great, maybe pick up your child if you’re comfortable and they are too, and put them up to a position, maybe on a bench, where their eye level is at your eye level. This is an innate, human need to have eye level at eye level. By the way, it also puts ears at ear level to each other, so it improves listening dramatically, but more important than that, it improves human connection. The same is true in meeting rooms, by the way, try and avoid jumping into a meeting room and sitting opposite somebody if you’re in a one-on-one conversation, nobody made that rule up. Just because there’s a table in the room, doesn’t mean you have to sit at it, just pull two chairs out and face each other with nothing in between. You’ll be surprised about the impact that makes.

Oscar Trimboli:

Back to the conversation about children, a lot of leaders I work with travel a lot, they travel interstate, they travel overseas, they’re in different time zones. In the old days, my tip was always if you’re on the phone, make sure you’re sitting down in your hotel room, either sit down on the hotel bed while you’re talking to a younger child, or sit on the floor. I’ve even seen people at conferences kneeling down. When it comes to listening to people while they’re on the phone, a completely different corner of the room. Now, the other thing is true as well, if you’re using FaceTime, or Skype, or video technologies, the rule is exactly the same, get yourself down to their eye level and that will put you in tune with where their head’s at. As the listening role model, you as the teacher, you need to make the changes, not your children. Remember, your role is to role model what great listening is.

Oscar Trimboli:

Let’s come to the work you’re doing with teenage girls, the most frustration most parents deal with when it comes to listening is the classic temper tantrum in a shopping centre, or it might be in a family situation. What advice would you provide for those listening, whether they’re teenagers or young children under 10 around how to deal with temper tantrums and how to listen during those situations?

Justin Coulson:

Behind every big emotion, behind every challenging behaviour, is an unmet need. If we listen well, we won’t pay attention so much to the challenging behaviours that we’re currently being traumatised by, instead we’ll listen for what is behind that challenging behaviour, that toddler tantrum, that teenager having a fit. We want to listen to the emotion behind it, not the behaviour in front of it. It’s kind of like the iceberg. The behaviour is the iceberg on top of the water, but there’s so much under the water that we’re not seeing, and great listeners will go underneath the water, and examine the emotions, and look at the context, and try to understand what’s going on. Now, there’s an acronym that I love to use to really help us to listen well, and I think that this acronym probably can account for maybe 90%, 95% of challenging behaviours and temper tantrums in children, and even in partners and spouses. The acronym, in Germany, if a German police officer asks you to stop, the word that he’ll use is, “Halt.” H-A-L-T, so he halts you. Let’s add an S on the end. And that acronym stands for H is hungry, A is angry, L is lonely, T is tired, and S is stressed. I find that those five reasons for challenging outbursts and difficult behaviour, typically that accounts for about 95% of the experiences that we have when things are going pear shaped.

Justin Coulson:

Here’s a case in point, about a year ago, my now four and half year old was only three and half, and was at the table having a dead set meltdown. You know, the toddler tantrum to the extreme. This was massive. And I think it was because we gave her the orange plate instead of the pink plate, or something like that. It was, as an adult, we look at it and say, “Are you for real? You’re upset about the colour of the plate?” Or, “I gave you the wrong fork.” Or, “Daddy tried to feed you and not mommy.” Or, “I cut your sandwich into triangles and not rectangles.” It’s that kind of, as adults we become exasperated by the behaviour. We don’t look at the emotion, or the reason, the unmet need behind the behaviour. And fortunately, I was having a good moment that night, which every now and again I guess I need to because I’m the expert here, and I recognised straight away that trying to reprimand my daughter for her challenging behaviour, her outburst, her tantrum, was not going to be successful. I mean, if you ever have experienced that, say, “Would you cut that out? Would you calm down?” No child has ever looked at a parent who says calm down and said, “Okay, thanks for the reminder. I’m calm.” You know?

Justin Coulson:

I mean, they just… they get angrier. You tell them to calm down and their emotions go exactly the opposite way because we’re not tapping into the need, we’re dismissing it or we’re disapproving of it, we’re turning against it, or we’re turning away from it. Instead, in this instance, I looked at my wife and said, “I’ll look after Em.” So I walked over to Emily and I picked her up. Now as any self respecting toddler would do, Emily started trying to punch me, and kick me, and saying, “Put me down.” Because she didn’t want to be manhandled out of the room. But we don’t have toddler tantrums at our table. So very gently, and caringly, I lifted her up and carried her to her room where I sat with her and put her on the bed. I said, “Emily, I really want to give you a big cuddle, but you keep on pushing me away.” Can I give you a cuddle and help you to feel better? You’re really upset, aren’t you?

Justin Coulson:

You see, I recognised in here if we go through hungry, angry, lonely, tried, and stressed, the HALTS, halts acronym, she was hungry, she was angry, and even though we were in a room full of people she was probably feeling disconnected from them. So maybe she was even feeling a little bit lonely, she was unquestionably tired, and all of those things were combining to make her stressed. She was at least four out of five on those things. And so, I invited her to hug and cuddle with me, I invited her to talk with me, and because she was in such a state, all she did was look at me and go, “Ahhh!” I mean, she really screamed at me, she was upset. Because I want to be sensitive to her emotions and her feelings, I softly said to her, “Emily, it seems to me like you don’t want to talk to me right now. Can I give you a cuddle?” And I reached out for her, and touched her shoulder, and she pushed me away and screamed at me again. Now, I want to honour my children’s feelings, I don’t want to force them into a situation that is not comfortable for them.

Justin Coulson:

So I paused and said, “Emily, I’ll wait over here by the door. I really want to give you a cuddle and help you to feel better, but it seems to me like you don’t want to be with me right now.” She screamed at me again, so I walked over to the door. I said, “Emily, I’m waiting by the door, you can come and have a cuddle any time.” And she screamed at me again, she was really upset. I said, “Emily, I recognise that you seem to want me to leave you alone, so what I’m going to do because I want you to feel safe and I want to cuddle you, is I’m going to step outside your bedroom door and you can come and give me a cuddle as soon as you’re ready, I’ll just wait outside the door. I mean, she was making it really clear that she didn’t want me around, so I stepped outside the bedroom door and I counted to, I don’t know, 15 and then I opened the door for her.

Justin Coulson:

When I opened the door she looked at me and she had calmed down completely in that 15 seconds. I said, “It feels like you’re a little bit calmer now. Would you like a cuddle? Do you want to talk to dad?” She hopped off the bed, and she came running to me with arms outstretched, she gave me a great big cuddle, she said, “I’m sorry dad.” Then we had a chat, for I don’t know, maybe 20 seconds about tantrums, and being upset, and whether it was okay to do that at the table. I asked her, “Emily, would you like to come back to the table and have some dinner with us now? We’d really like you to be with us.” She held my hand, we walked into the dining room, sat down, and ate the meal. Now, that entire process probably took about 90 seconds, maybe two minutes. At the outer limit it was maybe three minutes, but I don’t think it would have been that long. The comparison is, “Calm down. Calm down. Calm down. Right, that’s it. You’re going to your room, you’re going to sit here and you’re going to stay there.” And everyone feels lousy.

Justin Coulson:

It’s a horrible way to do things, but by honouring her emotions, by tapping into and labelling the emotions, by listening for what’s going on under the surface and telling her what I’m noticing, and then respecting her wishes in terms of whether she wants to talk or not, what happened was that she was able to self regulate, make up her own mind about what was right, come to me for a hug, talk things through, and come back to the table like a normal human being within a couple of minutes, within two or three minutes. Most parents tend not to respond to their children in that way, and that’s why we get these meltdowns that last for 45 minutes, or for two days, or whatever it might be.

Oscar Trimboli:

Good day, it’s Oscar here, I just wanted to reinforce how generous Justin’s being by sharing all these examples from his own real life. I think it takes a great deal of humility to do that when you’ve written six books on the topic, and yet your examples are all from your home life. Thank you Justin for being so honest. Coming up next, Justin’s going to talk about a story with one of his other daughters, and the topic is all about her school bag. And yet, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the school bag. We all have school bag moments with our kids. Let’s listen carefully to how you unpack the difference between the school bag and being popular.

Justin Coulson:

You know, the other story, just briefly, was about my third daughter Ella, who at the time was about seven years old. In the mornings, when I’m home, I support the best I can by looking after things in the kitchen, so I do breakfasts and lunches with the kids, while Kylie, given that we have six daughters, looks after uniforms, and hair, and bedrooms, and whatever else needs to be done. Wonderfully, as the children are getting older, the burden on both of us is reducing. But nevertheless, with six kids there’s still a fair bit to do. This particular morning, Ella walked into the kitchen and said, “I’m not going to school today.” My response was, “Okay, it sounds like you’re having a tough morning. Why don’t you sit on the couch and have some quiet time, we’ll have a chat soon?” But I got very, very busy looking after the other children, and by the time I realised what time it was, I had to leave to get to the airport, and that meant that Kylie was going to need to deal with Ella.

Justin Coulson:

I sat with Ella for a moment and I said, “Ella, you seem to have… be really struggling this morning. Can you tell me why you don’t want to go to school today?” And she said, “I’m not going to school until I’ve got a new school bag.” I said, “Oh, that’s really odd. Let me check your bag.” I went and looked at her bag, it was fine, there was nothing the matter with it. I said, “Your school bag’s okay, so why do you need a new school bag?” She refused to talk, she could sense my need to get out of the room, and get in the car, and get to the airport to catch that aeroplane. She wouldn’t talk to me. I called out to Kylie, “Honey, all the kids are ready downstairs, except for Ella. Ella doesn’t want to go to school unless she gets a new school bag. Her school bag’s fine. If you can sit with her and give her a hug I’m sure everything will be fine. I’ve got to fly interstate to make other people’s families happy right now. Have a great day, I’ll talk to you later.” So that was… I jumped in the car and headed off to the airport.

Justin Coulson:

I was about 10 minutes from the airport when I received a phone call. “Justin, the kids are supposed to be at school in 10 minutes time, Ella’s still in her pyjamas, she’s refusing to go to school unless she’s got a new school bag, what do I do?” I paused and said to Kylie, “It sounds like the morning has been tough since I left.” See, I could have said, “Well, honey, here’s what you need to do, X, Y, and Z.” Then I recognised that she needed to be heard. I needed to listen to her. So I reflected what I was hearing, “You hate it when I leave. It’s awful when I have to go out of state, especially when the kids are being challenging. It sounds like it’s been really hard this morning.” Once Kylie knew that I understood how she was feeling, then I said, “Would you like to talk a bit about what’s going on with Ella?” Now, Kylie described to me that she was worried about Ella getting to school on time. I responded, “I think the teachers would rather that she get there 10 minutes late and happy, than two minutes early and crying.”

Justin Coulson:

So Kylie reduced the pressure from herself, even though she had somewhere else that she was supposed to be, and I just asked Kylie if she could sit with Ella and listen, and let her know that we love her. Kylie said, “I’ve been through the bag. Everything’s fine with the bag. She doesn’t need a new bag.” I said, “We’re not buying her a new bag. She doesn’t need a new bag. That’s not what the issue is.” That’s kind of like a superficial issue that she’s using, but there’s something more serious. Kylie sat with her and I got a phone call after I’d been through airport security. She said, “I sat with her, she’s at school now, everything’s fine.” I said, “Well, what happened, Kylie?” She said, “Once we discussed the fact that the bag was okay, I just said to Ella, ‘Help me to understand. I’ll get you a new bag if I can understand why a new bag is so important for you to go to school.'”

Justin Coulson:

And Ella responded, after some coaxing, and recognising that Kylie wasn’t going to get off the couch until they had talked, Ella responded, “If I get a new school bag, all of the kids will talk to me today. I’ve got no friends. I’m unpopular. And if we can go to the shops and buy a new bag, when I walk into my classroom the kids will see the new bag, and they’ll see how cool it is, and they’ll want to talk to me and be my friend.” Now as you can imagine, that opened up a wonderful conversation about friendships, and what makes a good friend. And Kylie was able to talk through the issue and come up with some other solutions with Ella that might be more effective than a new school bag. But here’s the things, if we’d kicked her bum and said, “Get of to school, stop being so silly.” She would have gone to school that day, to a place where she felt that no one loved her, no one cared, no one listened, knowing that that afternoon she’d have to come home to a place where no one cared, no one loved her, no one was going to listen.

Justin Coulson:

We all have bad moments with our kids and with one another. And we’re willing to put the time in to sit down and listen, get through those superficial concerns, and understand what’s really in the heart of the child or the partner that we’re listening to so that we can work on solutions that will actually move the needle, and make the most needed change that’s necessary.

Oscar Trimboli:

The last one that people consistently tell me the struggle with, is what I call the teenage task. Some kind of task set by a parent for the teenager, and the teenager hasn’t completed the task, and the parent consistently complains the teenager isn’t listening. Any tips for those ones?

Justin Coulson:

Well, I think that sometimes the teenager is listening and just doesn’t care, at which point we need to ask ourselves, “How can I help them to care?” Or, “Should I stop caring?” And I know some parents who are quite happy to say, “You know what? I’m done with the bedroom. I’m just going to close the door.” It’s their bedroom, it’s their pigsty, they can live in it. But every now and again you walk into that bedroom because you’re running out of plates and cups in the kitchen, and you discover that there’s eight cups, and seven plates, and 14 spoons and forks, and sometimes a conversation needs to happen anyway. My favourite way to suggest for parents of teens to tackle this particular issue, is what I call the three Es of effective discipline. But you’ll note that these three Es don’t just apply with teenagers, they also apply in any parenting context, but they also apply in any work context, if you’re a team leader or a manager, if you’re an executive and you need to have the hard conversations, you’ll recognise the effectiveness of these three Es in any interpersonal interaction that you need to have.

Justin Coulson:

And those three Es are, we don’t explode, instead we explain, we explore, and empower. In other words, using empathy as a foundation, we explain. That is, we do need to do a little bit of talking. We might need to explain the cockroach problem, the mice problem, the hygiene issue of a bedroom being the way that it is. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we talk first, but there needs to be some explanation. Our kids quite often need a clear rationale for what we’re asking, and once they’ve got a clear rationale for our requests, they’re much more likely to be compliant. Our kids, our partners, our employees, whoever it is, once they understand the why, they’re much more likely to comply. The second E is explore, and sometimes we might actually explore first, these are not in any particular order. So we explain and we explore.

Justin Coulson:

Explore means we see the world through their eyes, we take their perspective, and this is when I go like this, “I’ve noticed that you just don’t care about tidying up your room, or you get too busy, or something, what is going on with your bedroom? Seriously, how do you feel when you walk in? Help me to understand why this is such a big deal.” And really listen. When they say stuff, don’t dispute it, don’t be judgemental about it, don’t be critical, accept it, really listen. And if they just shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t know.” Say, “Okay, well, you know that there’s cockroaches in your bedroom, don’t you?” Or, “You know that that Weet-Bix bowl that you took in there has been there for four weeks, and we’re going to need a jackhammer to get the Weet-Bix off the ceramic edge.” You can have that conversation with them and be upfront about it, but you want to be real. But you also want to be accepting.

Justin Coulson:

When they give you an excuse that you think is lame as, don’t say, “Oh, for goodness sakes, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Say, “Yeah. Yeah, I remember when I was a teenager, I probably felt like that as well, I understand.” We want to explore the world through their eyes. And then we go to empower, which I think is the best way forward with teenagers, we want to be able to defer as much of our power around decision making as we can to them. We might say, “All right, well I get where you’re coming from. I can actually see your point. I can understand what your struggle is, I’ve lived your struggle, I do get it. But I’ve also explained to you that we’ve kind of got a minimum standard here that we need to uphold, so where do we go from here? What solutions do you see? How do you see us progressing at this point? What would you do if you were me?”

Justin Coulson:

Now, all of these questions work not just with teenagers or toddlers, but they also work with employees and partners. This is, I think, one of the most powerful, collaborative, problem solving strategies that you can come up with. Because discipline, ultimately, is not about hurting people, that’s punishment, and punishment’s a lousy teacher. Discipline is about teaching somebody good ways to act, it’s about showing them the right way to go. Discipline is about instruction, guidance, and the best discipline is self discipline. Our goal with our kids is to help them to be self disciplined so that we can step back and make ourselves redundant. And the best way we can do that is listen to what their concerns are, listen to what their challenges are, explain to them the things that they need to know, and then empower them to make wise decisions.

Justin Coulson:

Now, if they make a really dumb suggestions, when you say, “What do you think we should do from here?” They say, “Nothing.” You can say, “Well, that is one option. But if we do nothing, where do we end up? I wonder if you can think of another solution.” And we sit there and we problem solve with them. It is a bit different to employee, I mean, if an employee says, “Nothing.” You can say to that employee, or that team member, “How much do you value your job?” But with a 14 year old, you can’t really say to them, “How much do you value living here?” Because you’re not going to put your 14 year old out on the street, well most families aren’t anyway. And so, we really want to have this gentle conversation where we explain, explore, empower.

Justin Coulson:

My other suggestions would be that we have this conversation somewhere other than in the moment. You don’t walk into their bedroom and say, “That’s it. I’ve had enough. We need to have a conversation now.” Wait until everyone’s calm. Maybe find some neutral territory like a café that serves great wedges, and sour cream, and sweet chilli sauce, or fantastic chocolate big shakes. Go somewhere neutral, and then say to them, “Look, I want to have a bit of a tricky conversation about one of those tricky kinds of things. Are you up for it?” They’re never going to say no, you’ve just shouted them a treat, you’re in a public place, and they’re actually curious. They do like it when we set some limits with them and have these conversations, it’s about being an adult, and they want to be an adult, so it’s worth doing.

Oscar Trimboli:

What a joy it was to listen to these stories, Justin’s such a skillful communicator, the way he talked about the three Es of explain, explore, and empower. He used real stories from his own life, very intimate examples, and I’m grateful that we were able to zoom into his living room to share and understand what it means to listen carefully to your children. I walked away thinking about halt a lot more, about hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. I really would love to hear from you. Why don’t you come into the Deep Listening Facebook group and tell me which one of Justin’s tips you will look to apply with your children, and possibly which ones worked and which ones didn’t.

Oscar Trimboli:

I’m all for using the power of three Es myself, explain, explore, and empower. That’s what I’m taking away from today, and what I’m going to use when it comes to listening to my granddaughter Ruby. It takes a village to raise a child, it takes a tribe to create a quest of 100 million deep listeners in the world. And I’d be grateful if you could share this episode with one other person. If you do, we’ll be well on our way to 100 million deep listeners in the world. In fact, someone told me if everybody who listens to the Deep Listening podcast shared one episode, we’d reach 100 million listeners in only 36 months. Thanks for listening.

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