You really don’t have to listen. Seriously. Our time and culture provides constant babble, and folks like us have facebook, twitter, and easy ways to talk all the time thanks to blogs like this one. In fact, you shouldn’t listen to everybody, there’s not enough time and attention in the world for that.
Listening provides great personal benefits, and non-listeners miss out. Non-listeners who obsess only about being heard will likely not be heard. Non-listeners have to stumble through life on their own, they have to reinvent the wheel every time they do anything. Non-listeners miss out on the accumulated experience of humanity.
The value you give listening is up to you. I’ve spent a career listening, and it is indeed awesome. It’s made my life deeper and richer, and it’s a skill I work on daily.
Here’s 5 Things That Work For Me:
1) Look into the eyes of the person speaking as you hear their words.
2) Nod, smile, move your head a bit, gently lean toward the speaker, raise your eyebrows slightly from time to time. These tiny incremental non-verbal gestures say “I want to hear more”.
3) Keep your body language open. Don’t cross your legs or arms, have your body congruent with your facial features. You’ll send a mixed message to the speaker if your face says “more” and your body says “enough!”.
4) As a listener, there are actually some things you can say to help the speaker. An occasional “ah”, or “hmm” or “I see” is helpful. If a speaker is stuck, you can ask “so what happened next?” or “so what did you do then?”. Then remember to shut up and listen.
5) Some “don’ts”; don’t look at your watch while someone is speaking, look at it while you’re speaking, and no one will care. Don’t hurry someone along, don’t complete their sentences, empty your mind of conclusions as much as possible. Don’t look at others, don’t look at the sky, don’t scan the horizon. Focus on the person, and you’ll communicate value. Period.
I’ve realized over the years people have an intense desire to be heard, and they’ll talk to those who truly listen. Some folks will flat out talk your ears off, and getting out of a listening situation is as much a skill as listening itself. Some folks will not be helped by listening, they just won’t. Some folks I listen to in order to learn. Some folks I listen to in order to avoid their mistakes. Some folks I listen to knowing that only God can change and help them.
There are individuals who will be transformed by being heard, and my listening will change their lives. There are others who’ll never change yet my listening is still a ministry to them; it’s a form of spiritual hospice and I provide this often.
Enough talk from me! I gotta go listen.