Listening Is No Small Gift
In any important relationship, the ability to truly listen to the other person is a requirement if the relationship is going to move forward. You might say, listening is a required “love language”. Listening attentively, or what Roland Larson and others call “active listening”, shows that you care.
Unfortunately, active listening is not something that comes naturally for most of us; it requires intentionality to work at putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Ultimately, it is love that helps us to hear what is being said by our friend, loved one, or even a stranger’s vantage point.
The person sharing receives numerous benefits from you caring enough to actively listen. When you listen to another person, it helps him or her get in touch with information and insights needed to solve their own problems. It helps them clarify their thoughts, make decisions, and take actions they are comfortable with. Being heard helps the other person feel supported and understood and not alone. Listening well has the power to renew hope. It is no small gift!
Being an active listener does not mean that you have to “own” or take on the problems of others. Nor do you have to solve their problems for them. It means walking beside them with loving concern and helping them discover their own resources.
There are several practices that can help you become a better listener. For instance, most messages shared by a person have 2 parts: 1.) The content or the words being said, and 2.) The feelings or attitudes that underlie the content. Both the content and the feelings/attitudes are important to listen for. Hearing both reveals the fuller meaning of what is being said.
Not all communication is verbal. Listening requires that we are also aware of non-verbal communication such as: hesitations, voice inflections, stress on certain points, facial expressions, body posture, hand movements, etc.
No matter how good of a listener we become, it is important that we always check our assumptions to be sure we understand what the speaker is saying. We do this by paraphrasing in our own words what we think we heard and then asking the other person if that is what they are saying. A side benefit of this process is that the speaker hears that you care and want to understand him or her.
Finally, use questions wisely. Clarifying questions can help you check your assumptions and probing questions can help you get important additional information. However, questions asked too frequently, especially when a person first begins to share, can distract the speaker and sidetrack them from the story they need to tell.
Not one of us is a perfect listener, but we can grow and do better. As we improve our listening skills our relationships will also benefit. Even when our friends and loved ones fail to hear us, as Christians we are in a relationship with One who will always listen. Christ is always available and ready to hear us. I pray that you and I will not forget or take for granted this amazing gift and that we will grow in our desire to listen to others.
I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.
Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live. Psalm 116:1-2