Today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog used this quote – “We win more friends with our ears than with our lips.” (Pastor Bob’s Bulletin)
Pastor Freed and I have both posted many times about the importance of listening, but many were too busy talking to see those posts. Perhaps you know someone who is always too busy talking to let you “get a word in edgewise”. My wife and I once had dinner with a woman (and her husband) who absolutely could not stop talking, mainly about herself. Her long-suffering husband just sat there eating and listening, as did we. At the end of the meal for the rest of us, she had not stopped talking long enough to take a bite of her meal, so she got it boxed to go. That was certainly an extreme case, but similar thigs often happen with others who would rather talk than listen. I know several people who apparently cannot stand the sound of silence, so they fill it with blather.
Listening well, sometimes called “deep listening” is a skill and discipline that most do not develop. It takes concentration and a focus that is away from oneself and onto the other person. Rather than being focus on what you want to say next, you must focus upon what is currently being said by the other party and process that information. Your thoughts should be on how you can best respond to the information that the other person is sharing – how can you help them or how can you share their concerns or joys.
I’ll bet that you know someone who starts to talk after you have finished and then interrupts themselves to ask, “Wait, what did you just say?” They realize that they didn’t really listen to what you said, but somewhere is the back of their mind a flag went up that tells them that they should have been listening. They were focusing upon what they were going to say next. They heard you speaking but they didn’t really hear what you said.
You can start to be a better listener and a better friend, by forcing yourself to focus your attention upon the words of the other person. Don’t just hear them. Process them. Figure out what the person is saying or trying to say. Read (or hear) between the lines. Is this a call for help? Is this just a sharing of happiness? How should you react to this information? If you force yourself to concentrate and answer questions like that in your mind during the conversation, you may find that you are getting a lot more out of the conversation and are able to put a lot more back into it. There will be time to think about what you are going to say next when they have stopped talking.
Another tip to be a better listener is to focus visually on the speaker. Don’t let your eyes dart around to other things or people. See how they are speaking and well as hearing their words. Look for body language signs of distress or happiness. Look for openness and gestures or signs of trust that should give you a cue that your advice or your help is truly being sought. Sometimes the signs that a hug is needed are obvious or that a kind and supportive word will go a long way to help. Sometimes you will notice that they cannot seem to focus upon you, to look you in the eye. That is normally a sign that they don’t yet feel comfortable (or trusting) with what they are sharing with you and words of reassurance and encouragement may be needed.
So, maybe the best starting point to becoming a better listener is to keep reminding yourself that this is your role at the moment. Say to yourself, “They are talking and I am listening; how can I do the best job as a listener?” If you are more aware of your role as the listener, you will do a better job at it. Once you can do that, you’ll also do a better job and a friend.
So, listen up!