You hear a lot of noises every day—music; countless conversations during lunch seemingly happening all at once in the cafeteria at school; your younger sibling banging on your bedroom door asking to borrow a shirt, your favorite shoes, eyeliner, and money…you get the idea. Most people hear fairly well. But few master the art of listening well.
Good communication begins with listening. James 1:19 says that “…we should lead with our ears and follow up with our tongue.” And, Proverbs 1:5 talks about the importance of letting the wise listen and add to their learning. Jumping to conclusions, displaying a lack of conviction, becoming distracted, losing patience, overreacting, and interrupting are all barriers to effective listening. Becoming a better listener isn’t a simple process. It’s an important principle that each of us should work to apply. Here are five steps to take to become a better listener:
1. Be patient.
When someone is talking, listen to everything the person says before responding. This isn’t always easy to apply, and often requires checking your pride at the door.
2. Listen to the story behind the message.
Stories can help you connect with the person talking and enable you to better grasp the point being made.
3. Confirm you are “all in” to the story.
When someone is telling you something, make clarifying summaries such as “So you are telling me…” or “I believe what you are saying is…” Such statements are evidence to the one talking that you are genuinely listening.
Ask the one speaking to you to explain more. Look at the person and acknowledge that you are listening. Nod your head and use the person’s name when responding.
5. Take notes.
After all, life is busy and there is much that competes for your attention. Note taking is like a backup for life’s important moments that you can’t afford to miss. The more notes you can take, the more prepared you are, especially if you are prone to forgetting things. Write down what the other person is saying. (This will be a useful habit for you one day in college or in the workplace.)
Here’s some really good advice that a friend once gave me. (Warning: It won’t sound good. But it is good.)
Ready? – – You aren’t always right!
My friend was right. I’m not always right. And the same is true for all of us. No one is always right. Each of us gets it wrong about something at one point or another. And though it doesn’t feel good to have someone tell you that you are wrong, it’s essential that you understand that receiving correction is an important principle to your listening, because sometimes listening means that you and I have to accept critical information about ourselves from others. And, sometimes this information won’t be fun to hear. Those who choose to accept this principle and apply change where it is needed are often better positioned to succeed. In case you are still questioning the need for such correction, here are three passages that should remove any doubt:
First, Galatians 6:1-3 says that if someone falls into sin, a friend should forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. This verse goes on to make it clear that we are to receive correction when correction is needed. Also, Proverbs 9:8-9 confirms the good that comes from the receiving of correction. These verses remind us that sometimes we each need rebuking, and that even a wise man needs to be open to learning more. That’s not easy stuff to hear, is it? But it’s good stuff for us all!
Lastly, Proverbs 1:23 ensures that there is a promise from God to those who …“choose to hear, receive, and ultimately apply correction.” This verse comes with a promise from God. The promise? Proverbs says that if you are willing to respond to God’s correction, He will pour out His spirit on you and teach you His words.
Mastering the art of listening can be a long journey. But, it is one that is well worth taking. Jesus understood this. He understood that His journey would take Him all the way the cross. In those final steps before going to the cross, and eventually giving His life, He was kneeling alone in a garden at night, once again listening…listening to His father. He knew what was ahead. He knew He was about to die. Yet, there He was listening to His Father, and applying His Father’s will. Jesus mastered the art of listening. I’m so glad He did. Jesus listened. He died. He came back to life. And, everyday He speaks to us and calls us to surrender all to Him. Are you listening?