“To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13
“Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions.” Proverbs 18:2
In last week’s post, we talked about asking good questions. The other side of asking good questions is active listening.
Active listening is a very important skill for communicating empathy and understanding. It requires you to attend not just to the content of the words that the person is speaking, but also to pay attention to the emotional content conveyed by tone of voice, facial expression, body language, etc. This is a kind of listening that seeks to deeply understand the other person. It takes energy and effort because we have to set aside our own internal assessments and responses and assumptions. Active listening is all about being curious about the inner world of the person with whom we’re talking.
An important tool that helps us practice active listening is reflecting back to the other person what you’re hearing. This is usually best done in your own words. You simply reflect back content by saying:
“So what I hear you saying is…..”
“Let me make sure I’ve got this right…”
and then summarize their most important statements.
Reflecting back the summary communicates to the other person that you’ve been following along. It also helps you clear up any misunderstanding you might have.
However, you may also use the nonverbal cues (voice, face, body) to reflect back things they may not be aware of:
“It feels to me that you are pretty upset by this….”
“It sounds like this really excites you …..”
“I get the impression that this worries you….”
This is best done by simply making an observation, which the person may affirm or deny. Which then leads to the opportunity for a good open ended follow up question: “You seem pretty upset by this….” “Upset, no…. more disappointed” “Disappointed? Tell me more about that.”
Most importantly, active listening is not about positioning for debate, argument, or refutation. The goal isn’t to find out places where you can correct someone’s thinking (remember, that was the error Job’s friends fell into). The goal is to grow closer to them in relationship and grow in your understanding. Then the Holy Spirit may open up opportunities for you to minister to them in interesting ways (for example: offering a word of encouragement, praying for them, providing material help, introducing them to a friend, or simply offering a shoulder to cry upon).
However, don’t underestimate the power of the simple act of listening. So many people go through life feeling unseen, unheard, unnoticed. When we make the effort to deeply listen and communicate that we are doing our best to understand the other person, we communicate love in a deep and enriching way. Listening in of itself becomes a powerful ministry to the other person. Paradoxically, when we listen, it actually becomes a silent invitation to the other person to become curious about our inner world and the Lord who reigns over our hearts.