There are times we must listen. I’d even venture to argue that listening must be done continually. When we interject our own thoughts, ideas, or emotions in the conversation, we fail to listen and shift the focus to ourselves rather than the audience (one person, a small group, or large audience) to whom we are speaking.
Now there are times that we must speak, teach, or even, lecture. However, I’d argue that those times are much less than those times we should be listening.
James 1:19 (NLT) tells us
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”
Many of us are quick to speak, slow to listen, and quick to get angry. However, we have to train ourselves to be just the opposite.
How do we do this?
You have likely been told that “practice makes perfect” and I would argue that to be true if what and how you are practicing is perfect. A more realistic statement would be “practice makes permanence.”
But how do I practice listening? Utilize the following skills…
- Active Listening
- Demonstrate empathy
- No interruptions
- Ask clarifying questions
- Open ended questions
- No pretend comprehension
What do these skills look like? Check out my video here describing what this looks like.
- Active Listening: When you are actively listening to someone, you will utilize each of the below 8 skills. The first step in listening is to be physically (or virtually) present. You must use eye contact and be aware of your non-verbal behavior. When you actively listen, you are not passively (or casually) engaged. You are using energy to demonstrate care, compassion, and interest.
- Demonstrate Empathy: Empathy is different than sympathy. Sympathy is a feeling of pity or sorrow for a person(s). An example of sympathy is saying “I’m sorry”, “There, there”, or other examples. Empathy is an emotion in which you convey an understanding of the emotions or experiences of another individual. This is where you are “feeling” what it is like to live in another persons shoes. More examples of sympathy were shared in the video on Empathy Blockers.
- No Interruptions: This is so tough! How often do you have interruptions in your daily life? I have them constantly. For instance: Phone is buzzing with calls, texts, or social media updates; children running around vying for your attention; alarms ringing reminding you of constant endeavors; sports practice/games; meal preparation; yardwork; and the list goes on and on. Its almost easier letting the interruptions occur rather than fighting for peace and rest. During meaningful conversations, it is a struggle finding limited interruptions, but it is necessary!
- Ask Clarifying Questions: Questions beginning with “You sounds…”, “You seem…” and “I hear/see…” will help you redirect the conversation and help open up the opportunities for meaningful engagement. There will be times in many conversations that you are unsure what is being heard or expressed by the sending party. It is necessary for you to build an understanding to ensure that “message sent = message received” and this is done through asking clarifying questions. It’s ok not to know something!
- Paraphrase: This is a practice where we hear what the other person has shared, then we process it, and then wrap it back up in a pretty package to ensure that we have heard the intended message. You are NOT repeating verbatim what they have shared. (Read that again). Once you have paraphrased, ask the question, “Did I get that right?” or “Is that fair to say?” If the message sent doesn’t equal the message received, you will likely be prompted by the other party. You will then be able to move to using open-ended questions to gain additional clarification.
- Open Ended Questions: Open ended questions are the key to building a conversation. If conversations were only asking questions with yes/no responses, we would say that the conversation and question type is “close-ended”. Close ended questions have 1 or 2 correct answers. For instance, “Are you happy?” has only a yes/no response as an option. However, if we change the question to “How are you feeling?” you can now answer “happy, sad, angry, mad, elated, joyful, sorrowful, cherished, etc.” as all possible responses. Open ended questions typically begin with Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Open ended can also include “Tell me more…”, “Help me understand…”, or “I am curious…” By using open ended questions, you are much more likely to have an engaging conversation and not limit it to a one sided lecture or interrogation (which is never fun)
- No Pretend Comprehension: If you don’t understand something, admit it, and ask for clarification. It is ok to not know everything. I struggle with this and tend to not ask people questions for things in which I don’t have some knowledge. However, by incorporating open-ended questions, I can learn A LOT about many topics by being willing to ask questions. People can read through pretend comprehension VERY quickly. By admitting that you don’t have insight or understanding on a particular topic, you will likely gain much more appreciation, acceptance, and grace from the receiving party by admitting when lack understanding. It’s ok not to be the smartest person in the room (although many of us don’t want to admit it).
- Summarize: Finally, you need to wrap up the conversation. Summarizing what was sensed, heard, or felt will help the receiving person(s) feel like they were heard and appreciated. Summarizing conveys empathy and compassion and allows all parties to providing any closing thoughts or comments prior to finishing the conversation. If something is still hanging in the balance, this is the perfect opportunity to clarify what has been shared and resolve before leaving.
By practicing and using these skills, you will train yourself to be an engaged listener and a better friend.
Is it easy? No! Far from it actually. This is why James reminds us we must continue to understand these principles. Whether it is listening to your children or interacting with other adults, you must continue to practice these skills.
Get out there and be intentional about actively listening to those in your immediate and global circles!