Five Ways to Be a Better Listener
We live in a culture where everything seems instant. This is especially true with communication. Email, texting, Facebook, and Twitter have trained us to speak spontaneously without much thought.
Perhaps what is most interesting in this age of social media is that nearly everyone has a platform for sharing his or her thoughts in which dozens of people, if not hundreds, will read what they think. If we are not careful, narcissism can creep in so that we approach in-person conversations primarily ready to share our thoughts rather than ready to listen and learn.
In other words, we love to talk, but we rarely seem to value the discipline of listening.
In the book of Job, there is a great example of friends who simply took the time to sit with their suffering friend, Job. For seven days, they just sat and didn’t say a word while Job suffered through his illness in silence. Best yet, they waited for him to speak first. Though God rebuked them for their bad advice to Job, their listening skills provide us with a great biblical example of patient friends who put aside their agenda to just listen.
So as practical application, I thought it would be worth sharing five simple ways to be a better listener.
Focus on them.
This one sounds simple, but if you have a conversation at a busy restaurant or near a television, it may not be simple at all. If people you are talking to notice your eyes adrift in a sea of distractions, they will quickly figure out that they’ve lost you. If you are prone to distractions, sit where you can focus on the other person. Eye contact can go a long way when it comes to communicating empathy.
Don’t just hear. Listen.
“Listening” is not the same as “hearing.” Hearing means that your ears work; listening means that your mind is engaged with what your ears bring into your brain. Listen to people and internalize what they are saying. Don’t just hear them talk.
Put down the phone and silence the ringer. Make the person sitting across from you feel like he or she is your number one priority instead of the steady drip of beeps and notifications coming from your phone.
Follow the 80-20 Rule
As an aide to help develop the discipline of listening well, try to listen 80% of the time and only speak for 20% or less. Don’t be too literal about it, but those of us who tend to speak first and listen later may find the 80-20 concept to be very helpful. Another tip is to wait two seconds after the other person finishes speaking before you speak. This gives the other person a chance to finish his or her thought, and it serves as a check that you are not simply waiting for him or her to pause long enough for you to jump in and begin talking.
Demonstrate that you’ve understood them.
I have found it so helpful to communicate back what I think I’ve heard the other person say. It’s a great opportunity to highlight gaps in communication, but it’s also good for the other person to hear you put their thoughts into your own words. It builds trust that communication is taking place. Phrases like, “So here is what I’m hearing you say…” or “So you’re saying…” can be helpful ways to practice this technique. Over the years I’ve learned that it is better to over-communicate than to under-communicate. My good friend, Hal White, who is also a Blueprint for Life blogger, says it best, “When in doubt, communicate.”
Listening is not just waiting for your turn to speak. In many ways, it’s an act of service and humility. It is a practical way to practice considering others as more important than yourself, which is an impossible task without the help of the Holy Spirit.
So before you implement any of these tips into your next conversation, first have a conversation with the Lord and ask that He enable you to become more like Him in the way you listen to others.