Hello everyone and welcome to episode 112, Three Ways to Listen Well in 2021.

When I give workshops on how to listen well I like to give examples of both good and bad listening. I usually use samples of both from Facebook posts or catchy cartoons. But these are just visual. What I really would like to use for examples would be video clips from both ends of the listening spectrum. Sometimes movie excerpts will work for this, but the best examples are from real-life encounters between people.

If Janet and I are in a restaurant or in a crowd of people I will sometimes say, “I wish I could make a video of those people over there and how they’re engaging with each other.” We run into all kinds of bad examples of people talking over each other, drawing attention to themselves, quickly changing the subject, and missed opportunities for connection. These are all too common.

But I recently witnessed a brief, but beautiful interaction between two strangers at a high school graduation party I wish I could have recorded. It would make my highlight reel of how to listen well. Stay with me now as I describe what happened because it will give you an idea or two for how you can listen well to the people in your life.

Listener responses to a prior episode

Before I describe the story of this interaction, I want to share a response from a listener to episode 106, How to Have a Great Family Vacation in 2021.

John, Good morning. Thanks for today’s podcast. Where were you 25 years ago? This would have [served me well then] and will serve me, well going forward.

This is the episode where I offered a free downloadable pdf entitled 5 Keys to Making Your Family Vacation the Best Ever in 2021.  Click here if you haven’t gotten your copy.

Now for today’s story of great listening

The scene
  • In South Carolina to attend our grandson Nathan’s high school graduation
  • Later in the day, his best friend’s parents invited all of us to their house for a small graduation party. Just two extended families.
  • Didn’t know the host at all. I’ll call him Dave. Nice guy.
  • Most of us were in the backyard, and Dave took a break from cooking on the grill and sat down on a patio chair to rest for a bit and talk with his guests.
Transparent expression of grief

Out of the blue, he wistfully remarked,

“I remember 9 years ago I was on the campus of my alma mater thinking, someday my son Jason [not his real name] will leave home and will be walking on a campus like this. Now in just a few months, that’s going to happen.

I’m not ready for this.”

How do you listen well to a comment like this?

Response to vulnerability
  • At first, there was no response to this heartfelt expression of loss. “I’m not ready for my son to leave home for college 700 miles away.” Just silence from the guests
  • Myself included.  Then I started remembering how I had similar feelings as Dave when our kids went off to college many years ago. And now just last fall with our twin grandsons
  • I was flooded with remembering the initial sadness, and how I wasn’t ready for it either. I also remember the joy that eventually followed. It reminded me a little bit like death, this very stark jump from one stage of parenting I was comfortable with, to an entirely new stage I knew nothing about.
  • I really felt for the guy.
The ORA principle: Observe. Remember. Act

Breaking the silence was my wife Janet’s response to Dave, a complete stranger.

“Yeah, and then they come home for a weekend visit from college, and sometime on Sunday they announce, ‘Well, I guess it’s time for me to head back home.’

“Home???? Your college dorm room is now home???? What about THIS place, isn’t this your home?”


Janet paid attention to the words Dave spoke, but also to the feelings he expressed in saying those words. She saw them in his body language. He was grieving. He was feeling the loss of his son. Life will not be the same in a few months.


In responding to Dave, Janet later told me she was intentional about applying what she learned in I Hear You the book I reviewed in episode 105, How to Listen Better

Janet remembered what it was like for her when our kids went off to college. She remembered her feelings, which allowed her to more closely identify with his.

  • Janet acted by putting into practice the central thesis of the I Hear You book by affirming Dave’s feeling of loss and sadness over bringing to a close the only chapter of parenting he knew. Her comment about when a child starts calling his dorm room home, and how surprising that is to a parent, showed she understood Dave’s feelings. She normalized his emotions, which is a powerful way to affirm what someone is feeling. And she did it without saying, “that’s normal.”
  • Instead, Janet showed Dave it was normal by her comments which so aligned with his.
  • She refrained from interjecting her story into his. She refrained from re-living that painful part of parenting.
  • Janet kept the focus on him, by keeping it off of herself.
  • She did the hard work of refraining from giving advice, and of just being quiet in this tender moment.
  • Janet acted by holding back advice like, you’ll get over it soon. It’s every parents’ job to guide their child to independence.
  • “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” ~ W.C. Fields
So what does all this mean for YOU?

How can you use what you’ve heard today to improve the relationships in YOUR life? Here are a few ideas:

Lots of parents are like Dave this time of year, thinking about their kid going off to college. Be kind to them. Watch out for them.

Listen to episode 69, When Our Kids Go Off to School for The First Time.  It offers a suggestion like this:

Call a parent who just got back from taking their kid to college and hauling their boxes of stuff to their first dorm room. “How did it go for you?”

You can also send a card or note in the mail that says something like this:

“I’ve been thinking about you, and praying for you as you process (kids name) heading off to school/college for the first time. I imagine it may be difficult to end one chapter of parenting, and entering this new unknown one.” Something like that.

We have opportunities to bless people with our words. God can use us in this capacity. Take advantage of these opportunities.

Here’s the main point of today’s episode

The first thing to do to listen well to someone is to affirm their feelings without presenting a silver lining to their dark cloud. The second thing is avoid interjecting your own story into theirs.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. Just send them to me in an email to john [at] caringforothers [dot] org. You can also share your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the show notes.

I’m especially interested in any experiences you’ve had as described in today’s show, and how you handled that experience.


In closing, if you found the podcast helpful, please subscribe if you haven’t already done so. You can also help us to serve more people when you leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.

I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to both reflect and to act. So that you will find the joy God intends for you through your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.
Well, that’s all for today. I look forward to connecting with you again next week. Goodbye for now.

Related episodes you may want to listen to

106, How to Have a Great Family Vacation in 2021

105, How to Listen Better

069, When Our Kids Go Off to School for The First Time. 

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