Being understood is a deeply spiritual and emotional need all human beings crave for.
Isn’t it amazing that God understands us perfectly? That he knows our thoughts, our feelings, and our desires in perfect understanding?
Yet in our human relationships, I see more often than not, people are bad at understanding other people, thereby depriving others of this very loving experience of being understood. And people are often bad at understanding people precisely because they are bad at listening.
As it turns out, listening is not a function of the ears; it is a function of the mind and heart. It is a skill that we can all develop. Here are some good listening tips that I’ve learned over the years:
Tips on listening well:
1. Shut up – If you want to listen well, well then, just…be quiet. By far, the greatest hindrance from great listening is the noise coming from our own heads. We often want to talk to someone with an agenda with what to say to people, or stories to share, or how we’re feeling.
Whatever that agenda is we come to people, put it away. Whatever story you were going to share, just put it on hold.
There is a higher agenda at play here, and that agenda is to understand the person you’re trying to communicate with.
People who have a high need to be heard are most likely very poor listeners.
Listening is not a means to give our advice. Listening is often an ends in itself. To understand someone is a beautiful thing. And that requires us putting away our agenda and need to be heard.
2. Create a safe space to share – So often people complain that “whenever I talk to this person, they get all defensive and won’t listen to me.” The problem is shortsightedness. We think the other person is at fault (which they probably are) but we haven’t recognized that we are responsible for creating an environment where the other person can safely share.
Coming with a spirit of anger, a spirit of judgment, a spirit of harsh correction are easily recognizable by anyone and it will most likely shut them down at the expense of our own emotional agendas. This hinders people from sharing openly what is on their mind or heart.
This is not to say we can’t do those things e.g. correction or giving advice. We have to be humble and wise enough to say that “those things will have their place and time but for now, I need to put those agendas aside to come to listen”
We must create a safe place for people to share. Do they feel our love and care towards them and what they have to say? Do they know that they will be listened to without backlash or an agenda being thrown right back at them?
2. Find a good time for people to share – Not all situations are created equal. Everyone has a tendency to share more openly in certain circumstances. We should recognize this from our own habits. Some people don’t like talking when they’re sleepy. Or when they’re busy doing something. Or if it’s morning.
3. Be interested in what they say – Be interested with our ears. Be interested with our emotions. Be interested with our body posture (speaking of which, I need to be better at listening by facing people when they talk). People are important; their feelings are important; and that should motivate the way we listen.
4. Ask clarifying questions – Ask questions to get more out of people. Chances are, people are not good at sharing and they need a little more egging on to know that what they have to say is important to you. Asking clarifying questions is a great way to have people express openly. Good questions to ask:
“Tell me more about that”
“What did you mean when you said x,y,z?”
“How did that make you feel?”
“That makes sense. Tell me more about that”
“Interesting. Is there more?”
5. Review and affirm what they have said – In order for people to feel listened to, we need to review and affirm what they have said. It doesn’t mean agree with what they have said; it simply means that we affirm that their thoughts are valid and we ourselves come to a place of understanding.
If you want to do something super simple to make people feel like they’ve been listened, simply recap what you heard. For example..
Person A: “Okay, you’ve been sharing a lot, can I pause right here and just recap for you what I think heard to make sure I’m hearing correctly?”
Person B: “(probably surprised)… sure”
Person A: “So you said [this] and [this] happened. And that made you feel [so] and [so]. And now you’re thinking about [this] and [that]. Is that correct?”
Person B: “yeah, mostly, except that [this] also happened and now I’m stuck with [that]”
Person A: “Oh yes, I forgot about this. So let me get this straight, [this] also happened and now you’re stuck with [that] situation.”
Person B: “Exactly!”
Congratulations, Person A is well on their way to understanding and listening well.
By the way, when I play mediator between two people who are in conflict, they most likely fail at doing this. I say, “Okay [person A], what do you think [person B] just said?” [person A will probably share something totally off] “Okay [person B], did what person A said accurately describe what you were trying to say?” “Nope”
It comes to show that your ability to recap what someone said is directly tied to how well you listened to someone.
To listen well is to love well. We are more empowered to actually be the voice people need to hear provided they know that we have listened to them well. And it starts with some simple mind and heart postures to be effective.
Listen well, my friends.