There may be nothing more important in communication than rapport. This is especially true between parents and their adolescent children. Of course, rapport is important across the board, but adolescents are in particular need of adults and parents who can actually listen. Advice for parents: rapport.
Listening is one of the key ingredients in building and maintaining rapport. It’s not enough that a parent listens, however; the parent or adult must convey to the adolescent that they are being heard. This is accomplished through what is called “mirroring” and “paraphrasing.” Simply stated, these two words mean the listener not only repeats what is heard but also in the tone that it was said while at the same time trying to convey the feelings expressed. For example, let’s say a teenager says something like “you never listen to what I have to say, you don’t care about me at all.” A typical parental response might be “that’s not true, I do care about you and I do listen to you.” This is actually undermining the relationship by essentially telling the teenager they are lying. A much better response is “I hear you telling me that you think I never listen to you and that I don’t care about you.” The teenager will then respond by saying “ya, right” or they may adjust their statement. Either way, the parent has been supportive and has demonstrated they have heard what was said. Because the parent has only posed a statement, not a question or demand, there is actually no need for the teenager to respond; but, because of the ping-pong nature of communication, the teenager will respond.
Building rapport requires active listening; the listener needs to be sensitive to hearing words and phrases, tones and moods of the speaker which can then be repeated back to the speaker. This can be somewhat mechanical at first but with practice becomes flexible and fluid. It is an extremely effective method of communicating respect. It does not challenge the speaker, nor does it pose questions. It is merely a way of acknowledging what was said by the speaker. Yet, it paves the way for much more meaningful communication. Everyone wants to be heard. But few people know that they have been heard. By mirroring and paraphrasing, you let the speaker know you heard them.
Another example in the form of a transcript; the speaker is a teenager arguing with her mother about curfew
Teenager: I don’t think I should have to be home by 11pm; why can’t I come home at midnight?
Parent: I can hear that you are frustrated and that you want curfew to be midnight, not 11pm.
Teenager: right, so can I?
Parent: No, honey, not now; remember our agreement — we said on your 16th birthday curfew will be midnight on weekends. You only have to wait another few months.
Teenager: That’s so unfair! All my friends don’t have to come home until midnight!”
Parent: I know you think it’s unfair and I’m sorry you feel that way. You know, all your friends are already 16. That’s why they have a later curfew.
Teenager: Can’t we make an exception this one time?
Parent: I hear that you really want to stay out until midnight and that you’d like an exception this one time. But, that was not our agreement.
Teenager: I don’t believe it! You just don’t care about how I feel.
Parent: You think I don’t care about how you feel
Teenager: you don’t!
Parent: I don’t
Parent: No, you really think I don’t care about how you feel, right now. I hear you.
Teenager: Well, do you?
Parent: Care about how you feel? Of course I do
Teenager: Then why can’t I stay out till midnight?
Parent: You think that if I care about how you feel, I will let you stay out till midnight?
Parent: I care about how you feel, honey, and you can stay out till midnight on weekends when you turn 16 as we agreed.
Teenager: ohhhh, all……right.
When practicing mirroring and paraphrasing, parents needs to be patient and keep their cool. Adolescents can get emotional, illogical and irrational. But, they’re teenagers, they have that prerogative. The parent is an adult and would, hopefully, act as one.