7 Steps to Better Listening
“Everybody wants their voice to be heard, but nobody wants to listen.” I’m not sure why that thought popped into my head this week, but it reminded me of an encounter I had fifteen years ago in Cleveland Ohio. I was attending a large conference, and was observing a break-out session, when the person leading the session invited everyone in the room to spend some time sharing their stories with the person next to them. I have to say that as a functional introvert I was not excited about that invitation. I didn’t know the people sitting next to me. The woman to my right immediately turned to me and starting talking. She didn’t share my apprehension. She spoke for a solid thirty minutes. I’m not sure she took a breath the entire time. I learned a lot about her over those moments. I heard her story, her struggles, her anger, and her passion for ministry. She used all the allotted time. This worked perfectly for me as I didn’t have to say a thing. When it was over she thanked me for listening so well. She turned her chair back to the front and didn’t say another word to anyone. And I sat there wondering if she had ever told anyone else what she had told me; if she had anyone who would really listen to her. Listening changes people.
Since that time I’ve learned a lot about listening. I learned a bit about listening well from classes in seminary, and from a few books I’ve read about it, and I learned a great deal from coach training. But I wonder if I might have learned just as much about listening from a spontaneous invitation fifteen years ago and an anonymous woman who chose to trust me with her story even though she didn’t know me. Yes, I believe listening changes people. Listening empowers people. Listening truly makes a difference in people’s lives.
Try adding these lessons to your ministry or leadership tool kit. I promise they will change lives; they will change you!
Lessons for Listening:
- Be intentional. Great listening isn’t accidental. You have to focus intentionally on the conversation at hand, on what the other person is saying verbally and non-verbally in order to listen well, in order to do more than just hear the noise. Stay focused. Make the decision to listen well.
- Release your agenda. If we’re honest we’ll recognize that we carry our own agenda into every conversation and every relationship. To listen well we have to decide to set aside our agenda and focus on the other person. Great listening means we focus on their agenda and not ours.
- Don’t craft your response. We have a tendency when listening to others to begin crafting our response before the other person has finished speaking. This kills true listening. We can’t truly listen to another person if we’re already thinking about how we’re going to respond. By the way, this is the toughest one to master.
- Ask clarifying questions. Listening is not just passive, it’s active. And asking clarifying questions can help the listening process in powerful ways. Asking a well timed and well crafted clarifying question communicates that you are truly listening and trying to understand. But be careful! Don’t let your agenda creep into the conversation here!
- Watch your body language. Especially if you are in visiting in person. Be sure you are physically open and attentive. Don’t cross your arms. Don’t look down or all around. Don’t slump. Pay attention to your non-verbal cues. Be sure you body communicates that you are listening. If you are on the phone watch how you’re sitting or standing and that will tell you how well you are listening.
- Get comfortable with silence. This is very difficult to do. We are trained to be uncomfortable with silence, especially that awkward and uncomfortable silence that come with deep and intimate conversation. But the silence is often a prelude to a breakthrough. Wait for the other person to break it. Silence can be the moment when the other person finds their answer, or their next step, or it could just be a moment to breath before opening up an even deeper thought. Don’t cut the process short by speaking too soon.
- Finally, be grateful. This person has just graced you with an important moment. They’ve trusted you. And this trust is sacred. Be grateful. And express it. Tell them “Thank You.” Who knows, maybe they’ll be the one to listen to you when the time comes….
Have you ever been on the receiving end of this kind of listening?
Have you ever wanted someone to just listen to you?
How have you done listening to others?
This week try listen deeply to someone, but don’t tell them why, just listen. And see what happens…
Grace and Peace, Rich.