Listening is a craft, and it involves so much more than simply hearing. Some are fantastic listeners, but most of us could improve our skills to effectively listen, and demonstrate empathy toward others.
We may lack confidence in our ability to speak well, but have you ever considered that listening well makes you a far better communicator? Listening can be a way to demonstrate that you put others first. As long as listening is not for the purposes of plotting, scheming or searching for a chink in someone’s armor, it is a selfless action to listen, rather than to be heard. When a person needs someone to listen, they need someone to lighten and share their burdens. Their mind unlocks, and burdens begin to ease as they feel that another human being cares for them. You have helped them to pour out their confusion and overwhelm, and now they can gain clarity. Since this is so important, let’s look at a few of the most crucial aspects of good listening technique.
>Concentrate on what is being said, instead of how you will respond. Most of us tend to hear while we are actively thinking about our response, or how we can relate to what is being said. Instead, completely focus on what they communicate.
>Let them speak without interruption. Interjecting your questions or thoughts, causes them to feel as though they didn’t complete their story. They feel cut off. If you’re concerned about forgetting questions or points that you would like to make, try jotting down some reminders.
>Don’t finish someone’s sentences or help them find a word, unless they ask for help. They don’t feel helped, they feel interrupted.
>When they’ve finished telling their entire story, it’s time for you to jump in. If they are looking for advice, here is where you may offer it. If they are not looking for advice, but are instead trying to problem solve or gain clarity, try drawing them out with open-ended questions. Asking questions is also a great non-confrontational way to help someone see error in their thinking, and they are more likely to come to conclusions without feeling judged.
>A pleasant and relaxed smile with natural eye contact, will communicate your sincerity, empathy and engagement. Be aware of your head nodding. Nodding gives an impression of agreement. If this is not the impression that you want to communicate, then make an effort to control that.
>Summarize what you’ve heard. This is your opportunity to prove that you have been actively listening, and that they have been heard.
>Be patient and understanding. They may need to tell the same story repeatedly. They are working through things, and for some, this is very helpful.
>Finally, make sure to follow up with them. This demonstrates your sincerity, and that they are not out of sight – out of mind. Knowing that someone truly cares, removes feelings of loneliness.
Let’s look at another type of listening. Listening to someone who is upset with us. Too often, we feel the need to defend ourselves, or make excuses. God’s word gives us helpful guidance in this area. James 1:19 says “so then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath”. Proverbs 15:1 says “a gentle answer turns away wrath, a harsh word stirs up anger”. As difficult as it is, a confrontational situation can be defused by following these very simple words. Arguing or making excuses for yourself, will further inflame. It is wiser to listen, and then take it to prayer, allowing God to show you the truth.
Listening is so much more than hearing. When we really listen, we are fully engaged. We hear, but we also see the other person’s emotional state, and we feel compassion and empathy. One of the most powerful ways to minister to another human being, is simply listening to them. Most people don’t need someone to solve their problems – they need someone to listen. When we give our time, and make the effort to really listen, we lighten the burdens of another human being. Most of us won’t get this completely right every time, but try putting a few of these tips into practice every time that you have the opportunity.