Listening: An Important Skill for Christians
Proverbs 15:22 states: “Without counsel plans will fail, but with many advisors they succeed." As Christians, we are called to provide wise counsel to our fellow believers who are struggling with decisions and plans. To provide wise counsel to fellow believers it is first necessary to know your Bible and know it well. Holy Scripture is the source of wise counsel. It is also necessary to be a good listener. This blog is devoted to helping Christians become skilled listeners.
Proverbs 18:13 warns against giving an answer without first listening carefully and completely. One of the most often heard complaints from adults in the United State is, “Nobody listens to me.” We have become such a fast-paced, impatient society that people who are willing to listen to others are in short supply. To provide wise counsel for fellow believers, become one of those rare individuals. If you want others to heed your advice, try listening when they need to talk. In an era when people are prone to tell others “Just text me,” your willingness to listen will earn the appreciation of people who are struggling with life’s exigencies.
To become a good listener, it is necessary to do battle with your human tendency toward self-centeredness. Effective listening is about focusing outward on others instead of inward on self. The key to effective listening is found in Philippians 2:3-4 where we are told to humbly count others as more important than self and, in turn, to take care of others. Part of taking care of others is listening to them. Being a good listener is more attitudinal than physical. Once you have adopted an outwardly-focused attitude, learning to be a good listener is a matter of practicing the listening techniques that follow. When someone needs to talk, apply the following techniques:
Remove all distractions. Give the speaker your undivided attention. Turn off your cell phone, do not allow interruptions, do not look at the clock or continue to do paperwork, and do not fidget. Distractions will shut down communication and undermine effective listening.
Look directly at the speaker. Show speakers a reassuring, empathetic countenance, look them in the eyes, and assume a posture that says, “I am listening.” Looking off into the distance, at your hands, or anywhere else except directly at the speaker may cause you to tune out and let your mind wander. Looking directly at the speaker sends a message that says, “I am listening.”
Concentrate on what is being said. Avoid thinking ahead to where you assume the speaker is going. Avoid making assumptions or giving in to preconceived notions. Listen carefully and concentrate on what the speaker is saying (or not saying). No matter how convinced you are beforehand about what the speaker is going to say, give the speaker the opportunity to state his or her case. Then pay attention. People will sometimes surprise you with what they actually say.
Watch for non-verbal cues. Facial expressions, tone of voice, volume of speech, willingness to make eye contact, and posture are all non-verbal cues. Don’t be concerned that you haven’t had formal training in the interpretation of non-verbal communication. You don’t need it. You have been able to interpret non-verbal messages since you were a baby. Even a baby that cannot yet speak knows when its mother is angry, tense, agitated, or sad. The baby knows because of the non-verbal cues its mother gives off. You recognize boredom, nervousness, fear, anger, and other human emotions from the non-verbal cues people present, even when they don’t mean to. The key is to watch and listen for agreement or disagreement between what is said verbally and what is said non-verbally. Do not assume that any given gesture means any specific thing. Rather, look for agreement or disagreement between the verbal and the non-verbal. If the two do not match, something is amiss and you should ask questions to determine what it is.
Be patient and wait. Some people have trouble getting out what they want to say. The connection between brain and mouth doesn’t always work properly in some people. We have all experienced the phenomenon of struggling to cogently put our thoughts into words. When this happens to speakers, do not rush in to rescue them. Just wait. Give the speaker a reassuring facial expression and the time needed to formulate his or her words. If you jump in to rescue a hesitant speaker, your interruption might have the opposite effect. It might do more harm than good. Be patient and wait. Sometimes major pauses in a conversation indicate that the speaker is trying to decide not just what to say, but if he or she is going to say it. Interrupting at this crucial point in a conversation can shut down communication.
Ask clarifying questions. When what is being said does not make sense, does not square with the facts, is illogical, does not match the non-verbal cues, or is unclear, ask clarifying questions. Be tactful and kind, but make sure you are getting the full and accurate picture of what is being said. Clarifying questions can reveal a hidden agenda that is quite different from the stated agenda. At the very least, clarifying questions will help elicit accurate information so if a decision must be made or action must be taken, you will have the benefit of a complete and accurate picture of the situation in question.
Few things will help you more when giving wise counsel than being a good listener. All people, regardless of position or status, need to know someone who will listen to them with patience and empathy. You can be that person.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com