How Well Do You Listen?

How do you listen?

Most of us like to talk, especially, to hear our opinions, thoughts, experiences, etc. Even the most introverted person will talk when you address a subject that they are passionate about. I know I like to talk, but do I really listen? Recently I heard a sales training tape on listening which caused me to start observing the art and skill of listening and how well I apply it and others apply it. Most of us do a poor job.

The key elements of listening

Listening is all about relationships, for a good listener is truly interested in the other person. Before I go into what good listening is, I want to cover what good listening is not. Just being silent while the other person is talking is not a good listener. Jumping onto one word the person said and then commenting is not good listening. Just saying "Uh huh" or "Ok," "Yes dear" or "Whatever you say" is poor listening. Good listening is not just allowing the person to completely finish what they wanted to say before you speak.

I was a good example of a poor listener last week when my daughter was trying to explain why she wanted to do something. I heard what she said and even parroted it back, but I was not really hearing her feelings, emotions and motivations. I was not holding her thoughts as valuable in our relationship. I just wanted her to get to her point and then I could speak.

The first premise of good listening is that you must want to listen or have a willingness to listen. This means you must truly have an interest in the other person and what they have to say. Willingness means that you want to not only hear, but you want/desire to understand. At the heart of listening is the attitude of caring, compassion and humility.

The second part of effective listening is ability. Ability means you need to focus, not on yourself or what you will say next, but on what the other person is truly saying, not just the words that are coming from their mouth. To be able to listen, you need to try to understand the context along with the content of what a person is saying. You need to be curious, to dig into what they are saying and why. This takes practice; it does not come easy. I am now using affirmations to help me be a better listener.

Good listeners ask questions and then ask follow-up questions. They qualify what is being said. A good listener paraphrases what has been said to ensure that he/she understands then asks a follow up question. A good listener does not just tell or throw out their opinion. "Here, this is what I think."

Relationship first

Good listening does not mean you have to agree with what the person is saying but that you value the person. This past weekend, I had a heavy, but fun, debate with a friend over a popular political issue I did not agree with what he was saying, but before I sought to refute the point, I focused on trying to truly understand his perspective. By my focusing on what he was saying and showing that I valued him, he was not offended that I disagreed with what he was saying. He actually said that it was fun to have such a discussion. If I had not truly listened, it would have been two people talking into the air, trying to get the air to see their point of view.

The most effective way to win an argument or communicate an idea is to listen and ask effective questions. Questions are far more powerful than statements. Questions show that the other person has value. By asking questions, you enable or allow the other person to come to your conclusion through their own reasoning or awareness. Good listening is one of the strongest ways to show that you care.

A truly offensive person is one who is a poor listener. They interrupt what you are saying to speak. They dominate the conversation or they stay aloof, not engaged. I have spent time with a person who was poor listener but a great talker. I rarely could complete more than two sentences without being interrupted. I was exhausted after being with the person just a few hours. They cared not for what I had to say, but just liked to hear themselves's talk. (I have been that offensive person before, have you?)

Parents, do you truly listen to your children and ask questions to help them see why you want them to do something or not do something. Do you listen when they are frustrated, hurt, struggling with social issues or do you just try to fix the problem or fix them?

Husbands, wives, do you really listen to what your spouse is saying or are you more concerned with hearing yourself talk and airing your opinions?

Bosses, do you truly hear your employees' problems? Sales people are you truly listening to your customer's needs or are you just trying to sell them your product or services?

The most effective (and least offensive) way to persuade someone to your point of view is through asking a question, not telling them.


James 1:19 "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."

Proverbs 4:1 "Listen my son to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding."
Proverbs 8: 1 "Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice?"

It is amazing how talking gets us into trouble. Jesus encouraged us to keep our mouths shut and our ears open. When we are talking, we can't hear what is being said. These passages are very clear that we should listen more. These passages do not just relate to our earthly relationships but also to our heavenly relationships. Do you just tell God what you want or do you listen to what He has to say? Is your prayer life a list of "I want, I need or please help?" Have you ever asked God to help you listen and hear Him? Have you ever said "God, I am going to be silent in this prayer time and listen for you to speak? When reading scripture, ask God to help you hear his voice and how his words should apply to your life.

Most of us want to have wisdom and understanding but what does it take to get those? Listening. Remember, if you are talking all the time, you can't hear God when he gives you wisdom and understanding.

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