Be a Better Listener Today

“A fool does not delight in understanding but only wants to show off his opinions.” Proverbs 18:2 (CSB)

Are you a good listener?

Almost everyone reading that question will answer, “yes.” But are you really? The simple gift of listening can build bridges and open doors in even the most delicate of conversations.

Listening well can deepen relationships, shape emotions and inform decisions. Most know this. And most believe they listen well. But do you really?

“The simple gift of listening can build bridges and open doors in even the most delicate of conversations. Listening well can deepen relationships, shape emotions and inform decisions. Most know this. And most believe they listen well. But do you really?”

Here are ten suggestions for improving your listening game today:

1. Value understanding. More than proving your point, and more than saying what you prepared, the real win is to understand what the other person is saying and how he or she feels. Cultivate a sincere desire to identify with his or her viewpoint.

2. Practice active listening. Refuse to be distracted by something in the room or by peripheral thoughts that impose upon your attention. Do not formulate rebuttals or responses while the other person is speaking. Hang on every word. Active listening is a discipline — a skill to be refined and deliberately employed.  

3. Keep your phone out of view. Not only do phone notifications audibly and/or visibly disrupt the conversation, but constantly looking at your phone (or your smart watch) communicates that something else is more important to you than this conversation. Get the phone off the table, out of your hand, and out of view. Ignore it.

4. Take out the headphones. If you have headphones in/on (even in or on one ear), the speaker is constantly wondering if (a) something you’re listening to is distracting from your active listening, or (b) at any moment you could interrupt the conversation to take a call that you feel is more important than this conversation. To be all-in on the conversation, take out/off the headphones — even if there is nothing playing through them.

5. Refuse to interrupt. Allow silent space between what the other person is saying and what you say. Do not jump to fill the silent space. Read facial cues and body language to discern if he or she has completed the thought before you interject.

6. Maintain eye contact. Listen with your eyes. If you stare into the distance or at some other focal point on the speaker’s body, you convey disinterest. When distractions enter your periphery, force your eyes to ignore them. Give the speaker your eyes.

7. Facial expressions & body language. Be conscious about what your face and body are saying to the speaker. Lift your eyebrows, smile, open your eyes and nod in agreement occasionally. Uncross your arms. Lean in when the conversation is intense and relax backward when it is casual.

8. Repeat for clarity. Before you confront or interact with what has been said, repeat what you heard for two reasons: (a) to show the speaker you have heard and you care, and (b) to ensure that you have understood correctly. You can do this up front with a starting phrase such as, “What I hear you saying is…” Or you can work it into your feedback loop by repeating their words and ideas in your response.  

9. Ask leading questions. The best listeners know how to draw information and emotions out of the speaker. Don’t interrogate, but rather, ask questions that draw more deeply from the well of understanding: “How did that make you feel?” “Tell me more about…” “Why do you think…” Then actively listen again.

10. Enjoy the conversation. Language is more than a tool. It is a gift. It is a vehicle for enjoying the presence, the intellect and the perspective of another. Even if you do not agree with what is being said you can sincerely enjoy the opportunity to listen and engage.

Don’t be a fool. Don’t enter the conversation to show off your opinions. Instead, be wise. Choose to listen with concentrated intentionality today.

Which of these 10 suggestions do you need to work on to become a better listener today?

Grace and Peace,

Tony

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