Stuff you should know: Secrets of great listening
Whether it was a conversation with a powerful religious leader under the cover of night or a very public discussion with a corrupt businessman, Jesus knew how to meet people where they were and move the conversation toward spiritual things. How did He do it? How did He take the most mundane moments and make them defining moments? How can we enhance our conversations by being a good listener?
Something To Talk About:
Listening to others well is a critically important life and ministry skill. Developing it will help us with all our relationships. In order to grow in this area, we can start by becoming aware of good and poor listening habits.
- Look at them with love: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). While it may seem that ‘just listening’ is a passive act, good listening is actually an active act of love. Active listening is an act of love because it requires us to focus on another person’s inner world, not our own. It means paying attention to not just what they say, but how they say it to pick up emotions that lay beneath the words. Supportive listening is also loving because it requires us to set aside our agenda so we can be ‘filled up’ with the hurting person’s message. How do you communicate love in a conversation? For one thing, you communicate love with your eyes, the way you look at somebody. Have you ever looked at somebody and known that person wasn’t loving you at that moment? Or have you ever looked at somebody and, without the other person saying a word, knowing that person loved you?
- Invest as much time as needed: Who we invest in, and who we spend our time with matters when it comes to our faith. Jesus intentionally loved and invested in His 12 apostles. He spent time with countless people, showed love to everyone, and engaged with people left and right. However, He focused on His 12. Investing in people requires sacrifice. We need to invest in people, not because they might do something great someday, but because they’re made in God’s image, and that alone is worth investing in. People are of greater value than what they produce. People simply matter and are worth as much time as needed.
- Share their feelings, not their solution: One of the problems with humans is that we like to fix things. When we see a problem, we want to quickly jump to how we can solve it so we can move on. But God wants you to be a feeler before you’re a fixer. He wants you to feel someone’s pain before you try to solve the problem. You may be barely into a conversation before you think, “I know how to fix this.” But that’s not loving. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. They want to feel heard. They want to feel loved. They want to feel understood. There is healing in sharing. Your ear is a healing tool God can use if you’ll learn to listen without trying to fix anything. You may know the solution, but you need to hold off. If you’re going to be a great listener, you’ve got to listen to someone’s feelings and enter into that person’s pain.“Before attempting to solve any disagreement you must first listen to people’s feelings. Paul advised, “Look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own” (Philippians 2:4 GNT).
- Tune into any fear or hurt beneath their words: There’s a big difference between hearing and listening. You can hear something and not really be listening. Sometimes the words don’t even matter. Somebody can say to you, “I’m fine,” but the way they say it tells you they’re not fine. Listening means you also hear what the person isn’t saying. That’s called empathy. Empathy means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and learning their point of view. You ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were in that situation?” Listening with empathy means you listen without interruption and you listen for fears and feelings. You listen for what they aren’t saying. You’re not trying to fix the situation. Sometimes healing comes just by listening. Romans 15:2 says, “We must bear the ‘burden’ of being considerate of the doubts and fears of others” (TLB).
- Engage them with open-ended questions: One of the clearest signs of a great listener is when someone knows how to ask open-ended questions. To really engage someone in conversation, you have to stop asking questions that only require a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, you have to start asking open-ended questions that allow someone to really share beyond a one-word answer. If you really want to go deeper into your relationships and better understand your kids, spouse, and friends, then you need to put some more thought into how you phrase your questions. Proverbs 20:5 says, “A person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them out” (GNT). It tells them you’re interested. It proves you’re paying attention. Asking open-ended questions shows people you’re willing to give them your time, your focus, and your love so they can be heard and understood.
- Never judge until you have all the facts: Have you ever been absolutely sure that you were right about someone else’s bad thoughts, hostile feelings, or harmful intentions only to later find that you were wrong? Most likely. While holding this mistaken view of their perspective, did you act in ways that made the conflict worse? Probably. The Bible places a big emphasis on getting the facts before you make any major decision or take any action in life. So I want you to remember, not everything you hear is true. Knowing this may help you stay calm. Proverbs 14:15 says, “The gullible believe anything they’re told, but the prudent sift and weigh every word” (MSG). Not everybody who speaks on the internet, social media, TV, or radio knows what they’re talking about. So please be selective. The Bible repeatedly says to always base your decisions on the facts.
- Is listening to others—really listening—easy for you? What steps can you take today to improve your listening skills?
- What makes you feel heard when speaking with others? Do you do these things when listening to others?
- Do you like to say things right away when you think of them? Why is this? What might happen if you sat with the idea until a more opportune time?
- Are you prone to giving more truth when you speak, or more kindness? Why do you think this is? How might you incorporate more balance of truth and love into your conversations?
- How would your conversations look differently if Jesus were physically sitting next to you? Would you take more time with your words? Show more compassion? Have more patience?
- How does listening first help us to love others well? What is the difference between listening to reply and listening to understand?
- How do questions help us to be better listeners? Why do we tend to be quick to speak and slow to listen? What is it that we are wanting?
- What distractions keep you from giving someone your full attention in a conversation? How can you minimize them?
- What is the benefit of asking, “How would I feel if I were in that situation?”
- In what ways can you start being a better listener this week?
- How will you put into practice what you’ve learned today?
Take One Thing Home with You:
How often has somebody said, “Are you listening to me?” maybe our attention was on our phone or we zoned out. The art of listening is not what it used to be. Here’s how James puts it in his letter: “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19). Listening as Christians is very important. When talking about God, people appreciate the believer when we genuinely listen to their stories rather than hitting the basics of Christianity and moving on. That’s what Jesus did any time He encountered someone in need. Like the Samaritan woman who had come to the well for water. After listening carefully to her responses and discerning her need, Jesus tenderly replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water” (John 4:10).
Challenge yourself to be a better listener. With your spouse. Your friends. Your kids. Your boss. Your teacher. Your pupils. Your neighbors. because the better we listen, the more God can speak through us.