The Art of Listening
When our firstborn was a toddler, she would engross herself in her play. We thought she wasn’t aware of what was happening around her, so we would talk about more adult matters, like a family member we were worried about. Later at dinner, our precocious 4-year-old would ask about said family member and why we were worried. From that point forward, we were careful with what we said around her because we remembered she wasn’t just hearing, she was listening!
Did you know there is a difference between hearing and listening? You can hear what’s going on around you without really listening to take it in. That’s because true listening requires attention and intention.
Relationships are built on healthy communication, and a crucial part of communication is the art of listening. Our natural or even learned tendency is to answer or give our thoughts before we have truly listened. So many of us are being conditioned because of social media and news feeds to take in sound bites. We read or learn a small bit of the information and form an opinion or make a comment or rebuttal many times without the whole story or knowing how a friend fully felt.
“The one who gives an answer before he listens — this is foolishness and disgrace for him.”
Proverbs 18:13 CSB
If we long to have healthy relationships and whole communities, we need to learn the art of listening through giving our full attention and being intentional.
If you’ve been a parent for any amount of time, you have probably heard the words, “watch me!” followed by your child doing some sort of trick. Our kids would do this over and over. I learned it was never about the dramatic feat they were attempting to accomplish. They always ended up looking over at us to check if we were watching and ask, “did you see that!?!” What they really wanted was our full attention.
These days, everyone is fighting for our full and undivided attention. Through the media, our phones, texts,email, not to mention the real people around us. All are clamoring for our full and undivided attention so they can send us what they feel like is an important message. But our attention is usually divided. Multitasking is something many tout to be a crucial talent they hold, but all it means is we are dividing our attention between people or tasks and nothing is getting our full undivided attention.
To be a good listener and build good relationships with people, you really must give your full undivided attention to that person and the conversation at hand. This will take practice for most of us. We will have to learn to put down our phones or shift our brains over from a task and focus on the person who is sharing.
When you give your full attention, you actually become an active listener instead of just hearing words and halfway taking them in. When you give your full attention, you are able to process what someone is saying and ask follow-up questions that clarify understanding or facilitate further conversation.
When we remove other distractions around us and give our full attention to the person in front of us, we are able to listen actively and participate with our mind, ears, and heart tuned in.
Learning to be a good listener takes intentionality. We must intentionally remove distractions and give our full focus to the person speaking with us. We have to be intentional about actively listening to what someone is sharing, especially if it's coming from their heart. We have to be intentional to not just hear the words but be aware of the person's emotions, body language, and intonation as they share.
When you are intentional about giving someone your full attention when listening, what you are really doing is giving them your time. These days, it is the most valuable commodity we have to give.
Jesus was intentional about every conversation and interaction He had. He was never distracted, and that allowed Him to engage fully with every person He encountered. He did this with a heart of compassion. And that is what we are called to do as well.
In Exodus 34, we learn the first description God tells us about Himself is compassion. Then, we see Jesus have compassion everywhere He goes and with everyone He interacts with. It’s compassion that allows us to turn our ears and listen with love.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”
Being quick to listen with compassion and love actually leads us to become slower to speak and slower to become angry because we are taking time to understand the person or situation before we develop our own thoughts or opinions. This is the way of Jesus. This is how you grow in love. This is how healthy friendships and communities are built.
Sometimes we need a little nudge on how to remove distractions and learn to listen. Here are a few things you can do to start practicing active listening today!
- Put your phone down, or even in another room,when at the dinner table
- Keep your laptop screen half-closed during meetings, unless you're actively taking notes
- Turn and look your kids in the eyes when talking to them or when they are talking to you
- Preemptively think/say to yourself "I'm here to listen" before going into an important conversation.
- When socializing or at a group, come prepared with questions to foster deeper conversation with others