Written by: Tommye Lambert; Director, WBL

When do we begin tuning out the world?

I remember sitting with rapt fascination listening to my mom and dad tell me stories. Sometimes they recited them from memory. Sometimes they read from a storybook with drawings of dragons and princesses and castles and horses and knights and ogres and ducklings and piglets.

On every occasion, they captured my undivided attention. I anticipated the words that would flow off their lips and through the air into my ears waiting for the next syllable of our spoken adventure. They indulged me as I stopped  them over and again with a child’s endless string of questions, comments, and observations. We weren’t simply sharing a story or a book. We were immersed in conversation.

When the stories frightened me, they gathered me into the safety of their arms. My mind trekked along with the words. I knew the stories so well that when they changed the sequence of events, I, ahem, told them so. I was listening. I was paying attention.

When did it stop? Somewhere on our journey from innocent and unschooled child to learned and wizened adult, many of us lose at least a degree of our attentiveness.  We hear, but we limit our attention. We are forever filtering, filtering. Instead of hearing the message in the words of what someone is saying, we often tune out the content, distracted by our own purposes.

Rather than focusing on the message being shared, our mind wanders, deciding, “What’s in this conversation for me?” “How can I respond to you in way that highlights my wit, my intellect, my cool factor?” “How can impress you?” How can I make you approve of me, like me?” “How can I get away from you?”

Listening is the heart of communication. Yet, the ability to listen without distraction takes practice and work. The benefits of listening are countless.  Listening provides more loving relationships with our spouses and family and friends.Listening increases workplace productivity. Decreases absenteeism. Enhances work relationships. Increases sales. Some studies have connected improved listening at the management and leadership level with a decrease in employee dissatisfaction and lawsuits.

The Bible has much to say about hearing and listening. A derivative of the word, “hear” or “hearken” (listen) is used over 500 times in the Bible. God listens to His children (1 John 5:15). He instructs His children to listen to Him (Deuteronomy 32:1-2, John 10:27-28)  and to pay attention to one another (Mark 4).

The Second Great Commandment (Matthew 22:39) tells us to love one another. Christian author David Augsburger summarizes that there is perhaps no greater way to demonstrate love than to listen when someone trusts us enough to talk to us: “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

These eight steps to effective communication through listening are brilliantly easy and effective for anyone aspiring to improve personal and professional relationships:

1. Indicate you are listening with your eyes or your voice and/or your body language.
  • The most effective means to communicate that you are listening is eye contact.
  • Body language is also effective. Lean slightly in toward the person.  Consciously relax.
  • Don’t fold your arms across your chest. This is a stance of self-protection and defensiveness.
  • Allow the emotion appropriate to the content of what the person is saying to you to display on your face: a smile for a happy situation, sadness for concern, etc.
  • If you are talking on the phone, use your voice to gently insure the person knows you are listening. But, don’t interrupt. Say, “Yes, okay, “etc.
2. Don’t interrupt. Wait until the speaker pauses to add a thought.
3. Don’t change the subject. Make sure that the thoughts that you add are related to what they are saying.
4. Respond with empathy statements.  
  • This is perhaps the most important of the steps.
  • This is equivalent to a parent taking a child into the safety of their arms during the frightening parts of a story.
  • Say things like, “That is fabulous. You must be so _______(excited, happy, etc).”
  • or “I am so sorry. You must be ____________ (concerned, sad, devastated, upset, etc).”
  • Empathy statements communicate that you are actually paying attention to the emotion of the situation. That you care.
5. If you are problem solving with the person, ask them to help you, or ask how you can help them.
6. If you are problem solving, summarize the agreed upon plan, and set a time to follow up on progress.
7.  Keep your tone friendly.
  • Never escalate into a raised voice.
  • Hear what the person isn’t saying.
  • Put yourself in their shoes.
  • If they get upset, maintain control. Rise above their temper and emotions.
  • Your voice is a tool. Use it to calm an emotional conversation.
 8. Practice, practice, practice.

Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing. It doesn’t really matter when we stopped. It matters that we begin again.

A wise man will listen. Proverbs 1:5

When someone tells you something big, it’s like you’re taking money from them, and there’s no way it will ever go back to being the way it was. You have to take responsibility for listening.”  Banana Yoshimoto, The Lake

“I never miss a good chance to shut up.” James Patterson, Along Came a Spider

 ” I will not die but live, and proclaim what the LORD has done. PS 118:17

Posted from liveandproclaim.com