Last post tackled the importance of listening. This post will tackle some of the challenges we face when we listen and how we can become better listeners. It might seem obvious what we should do to become better listener, but even to the best communicators these are good reminders: (1) talk less, (2) get rid of distractions, (3) don’t judge prematurely, and (4) look for key ideas.
- Talk less – let the other person have the stage.
“We have been given two ears but a single mouth, in order that we may hear more and talk less” (Zeno of Citium). Sometimes we want to show understanding through giving an example from our own lives, but be careful not to stage-hog; preventing the person from sharing what they wanted to say. We also tend to talk more when we assume we have and understanding of what the other person is saying. Let’s not be fooled by this assumption, rather let’s wait with assumed understanding until the person has finished sharing what is on their heart.
- Get rid of distractions – put the phone away!
Nowadays it is a terrible habit to have the phone laying on the table next to us or simply have it in our hand as we listen. Other forms of distraction could be noise in the background or people coming in and out of the room. Consider the importance of giving undivided attention to important subjects and offer to get rid of the distractions. If this is not an option, then provide an opportunity to talk another time when it is possible – and follow up on it!
- Don’t judge prematurely – listen first, then evaluate.
As mentioned in “talk less” we tend to make assumptions of understanding what the speaker is saying. This is especially a problem when what the person is saying conflicts with our worldview and opinion. Political debates are hopeless in that sense, and seldom do we want to replicate their terrible listening styles. Consider if there might be some truth to what the person is saying before responding.
- Look for key ideas – the point of the story is…
Sometimes people have a hard time getting to the core of what they wanted to say. I assume we have all been there. In these situations it can become really draining for the listener to stay focused. When people are sharing, they typically have a central idea and a perspective that they are sharing from. It can take some practice in listening and gathering the clues, but doing so can help the speaker focus what they are talking about. A good way to dig deeper is to encourage it through sentences such as: “I’m interested in hearing more about …” or “Please explain why you said …” An example from the Bible is how the disciples sought to understand Jesus’ parables:
His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. Luke 8:9, NASB
All in all – these four things seem obvious to most of us, but ask yourself when was the last time you had a hard time listening attentively to a person you actually care about? I’m not writing this because I’m an expert, but because I need to remind myself of it all the time.