How To Be A Good Listener

Has anyone ever told you that your ears are beautiful? Even sexy? I’ll let you in on a little secret: your ears just may be the most attractive part of your body. No, God didn’t make ears physically appealing. In fact, they seem to look the best when they blend into the background. While nobody notices ears, everyone is attracted to a good listener.

How ironic it is that you can major in communications and never take a class on one of the most fundamental aspects of communication—listening. Our focus is always on talking and sharing. If we are all learning to talk, who is learning to listen?

Perhaps the most powerful mode of sharing the gospel, saving your marriage, and making friends is learning to truly listen to others. We feel loved by those who take the time to hear our story and who care enough to ask insightful questions.

Much of my job at Authentic Intimacy is to teach through writing, speaking, and radio. I am aware of the fact that I have nothing to teach unless I’ve first listened—listened to the pain of others, listened to experts for their advice, and listened to the Lord for his direction. The day I stop listening is the day I’ll run out helpful things to say.

Although it’s not taught in a college course, listening is a skill that every one of us can develop and cultivate. Here are three ways you can become a better listener.

1. Become Curious

Every single person you meet is interesting. I mean that. On the surface, they may drone on and on about something you don’t care about, but underneath is a story—an interesting story—if you take the time to dig for it. For me, the first step to listening is finding something to be curious about. My curiosity makes listening genuine, not just a social nicety.

Your curiosity will lead you to ask questions that go beyond “How was your day?” or “What do you do for a living?” After 20 years of marriage, I still want to be curious about my husband. I want to know what God is teaching him, what he is looking forward to, and what made him laugh today. I’d love to meet a stranger and immediately become curious about his or her story. I am curious about why people make different decisions than I would. Instead of arguing my point, I want to know why they believe differently than I do.

When a person senses that you are genuinely interested in them, they will be drawn to you. Whether a good friend or a perfect stranger, showing an interest is a wonderful way to love through listening.

2. Give Eye Contact

Because we can’t gauge listening by looking at someone’s ears, we look at their eyes. Your son may insist he is listening, but you won’t believe it if he’s looking at his phone throughout your conversation. How are you at giving someone your undivided attention and eye contact?

My parents tell me that when I was about 18 months old, I developed a strange habit. Whenever an adult would hold me or sit next to me, I would take their face in my chubby little hands and move it so they were looking directly at me. I guess even then I was training to be a psychologist! As a child, I intuitively understood the connection of looking someone directly in the eye.

We show our children, spouses, friends, and even strangers respect when we give them our focused attention. With our eyes we say, “I’m truly interested in hearing you. I care about what you have to say.”

I want my three boys to learn how to give other people eye contact. One of the ways I’ve done this is to challenging them to staring contests. Even a five-year-old will look you directly in the eyes for 30 seconds if you make it a game! So, if you feel uncomfortable with eye contact or have trouble focusing without getting distracted, challenge a friend to a staring contest. It’s a fun way to build the skills of a good listener.

3. Go Beyond the Words You Hear

Becoming a good listener means hearing more than what the other person is saying. We only communicate a portion of what we want to express through words. The rest comes through body language, tone, and even silence.

When you are listening, reflect back to the other person something beyond the words they just said. “It sounds like you’re really discouraged about work.” “That must have been a difficult conversation.” “I can see why that is hard to put into words.” “You’ve been waiting a long time to hear this news!” Statements like these tell a person that you’ve not just listened with your ears, but also with your heart.

In the world of social media and texting, the art of truly hearing is quickly disappearing. As much as you want to tell your story, don’t forget to ask other people for theirs. Perhaps the greatest gift you can give those in your life is to put to use those two beautiful things sticking on the sides of your head.

Publish Date: September 28, 2015