Listening Lessons

Communication is a two-way street. It involves speakers and listeners. In good communication one person does not monopolize the conversation. Nor does the listener simply keep his mouth shut without entering into the dialogue. Here are a few helpful hints for becoming great listeners:

Give undivided attention. In other words, “look at the person who is talking.” Eye contact is extremely important in the listening process. It facilitates mental focus. It helps the listener to truly concentrate on what the other person is saying. When a listener continues working at an activity without even looking up, he/she is likely to miss a lot of what was said. Plus, when listeners don’t look at the speaker, they can’t pick up on non-verbal messages. Often much more is communicated through gestures, posture, and facial expressions, than through the actual words spoken. It may well require turning off the TV, turning away from the computer, putting down the book, magazine or tablet, or interrupting an activity, but the time investment will produce great returns in improved communication.

Be receptive, not defensive. It is easy for listeners to get into a rut of “defensive” listening. Imagine a husband and wife who sit down together to eat the supper the wife prepared. The husband takes a bite and says, “Hmmm…. Where did you get this meat?” The wife who is defensive quickly responds, “Why? What’s wrong with it?” Whereas it is important for speakers to guard against harsh, critical speech, it is just as crucial for listeners to guard against putting up a wall of self-protection. Often God desires to use the people closest to us to help us. This requires a willingness to listen with a humble heart and give true consideration to any insights others might share.

Include the Third Party. Good listeners try to put themselves in the shoes of the other person. They try to appreciate what the other person is feeling. However, they need to maintain objectivity. Ultimately good communication isn’t just about understanding each other… it is about helping each other live and grow as God desires. He is the unseen Third Party who hears every conversation. So the wife who is constantly crying to her husband over disappointments and frustrations, needs to know he cares, but also needs him to gently remind her of God’s care and encourage her to reach out to Him for strength to cope with her challenges. Effective listeners don’t immediately agree or disagree with the person talking. Instead they ask the Lord to help them filter what they’re hearing through the lens of Scriptural truth and then respond by speaking the truth, in love.

Make sure you heard it right. It is amazing how often conversations deteriorate into angry arguing, simply because listeners aren’t truly listening. While the other person is speaking they mentally formulate their rebuttal. This type of listening can quickly turn a discussion into a debate. Wise listeners focus on what the speaker is saying and then, before responding with their own input, they try to paraphrase what they think they heard the speaker say. This can prevent derailment and keep the dialogue on a positive track.

Enhance listening with great non-verbals. Crossed arms, a frown or rolled eyes say volumes without a word being spoken. Effective listeners choose to look pleasant and relaxed. They lean forward toward the speaker, not away. In emotion-packed situations, a hand on the shoulder or a pat on the hand can reassure the speaker and encourage him/her to continue sharing even difficult-to-express feelings. Certainly many pastors would appreciate some affirming non-verbals from the congregation during the sermon. It must be discouraging to look out at a half-asleep, blank-staring audience week after week. They must wonder sometimes, “Is anyone really listening?”

Follow God’s advice. The Bible has much to say about communication. Memorizing the following verses can help listeners improve their skills and become even better friends to the people God has placed around them.

  • Proverbs 18:13 He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.
  • James 1:19 Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
  • Proverbs 17:27-28 A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.
  • Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh one stirs up anger.