To be an artful listener you must be able to not only receive messages, but interpret them accurately. It is our responsibility to understand incoming messages as the sender intended. It takes a lot of time and effort to do this well, but it’s essential.
When we don’t listen with our ears, our heart, and the holy spirit, communication can quickly break down. The sender of the message is likely to become frustrated, irritated or may choose to shut down altogether. This makes the work harder. So, if there is one communication skill we should master, listening is it.
Last spring, after celebrating our 25th Anniversary, Exodus embarked on a process using a Theory of Change framework. We are looking at how well we are understanding and meeting the needs of the people in our programs, and in our neighborhood. Basically, God asked us to begin a journey of LISTENING in our community.
We’ve begun holding informal focus groups with our middle school students, high school students and our tutors. The information and data that is coming back is rich, informative, and eye-opening. Soon, we’ll be doing a “listening tour” with parents, community leaders, educators and pastors as well. We look forward to sharing more about this work soon.
There is a reason we have two ears and only one tongue, according to Mark Twain. Try not to share your experiences, opinions, or finish someone else’s sentences. Let them speak until you have heard them out, and can be confident that you have understood.
Being too busy or distracted is the enemy of good listening. Put other thoughts out of your mind and focus. Don’t pick at your nails, check your phone, or interrupt, especially with comments not related to the topic at hand.
Tricky, right? Some of us are more gifted in this area, but we will hear far more if we can make the sender feel comfortable and accepted, rather than anxious or fearful.
Let go of your own viewpoint, which has been shaped by your experiences and beliefs. These may be vastly different from the speaker’s. The work of listening begins when you can fully imagine their viewpoint and experience, without judgement.
Pauses, even long pregnant ones can make us uncomfortable. However, if you can remain patient through the silence, the void may get filled by the most important information the speaker wanted to share. It will be worth the wait.
From wild hand gestures or odd laughter, to cultural differences, we must try to filter out delivery methods that are different from ours. Also, tone matters. Pay attention to how the speaker emphasizes what’s important to them. Do they speak louder or softer? Do they sound too aggressive? Their tone might not be our preferred way of communicating, but if you focus on the message and not the delivery, you’ll understand them more deeply.
Words are a means of expressing ideas, feelings and concepts, or they may be used as an avoidance mechanism to mask deep feelings they want to keep hidden. Try to tune in to feelings that might lie hidden beneath the words.
People communicate a lot with their eyes, and other non-verbal cues. Be mindful of gestures and expressions, and try to pick up on how they reflect the deeper meaning behind the message.
It’s interesting to note that a quick search of LISTENING in the bible found that there are at least 70 mentions of the word. If we are to love God, and others, good listening is critical.