I always thought that I was a good listener until I actually put it to the test. Our Sunday school class was going into a series about listening that really resonated with me. I picked up a book my mother had given me about the subject and decided that I would learn to be a better servant, better wife, and a better friend by becoming a better listener.
It’s harder than you’d think.
Most people don’t think of themselves as bad listeners, which may be a big part of the problem. Perhaps we don’t check our phone as much as that one person we know, but there always seems to be so many distractions keeping us from fully immersing ourselves in one moment.
Too often I find myself thinking more about what I am going to say than fully listening to what someone else is telling me. Women often accuse men of jumping too fast to “fix” things instead of just listening to their problems, but a lot of the time I find myself doing the same thing to my husband when he’s telling me about his rough day. Many of our personal arguments are often caused by misunderstandings, or not really listening, to what the other is saying. It’s humbling to think that maybe people don’t need my input as much as they need me just to shut up and allow them to be fully heard.
Listening is difficult when we disagree with what’s being said. We only listen to what we like to hear instead of trying to understand things from the other’s point of view. With the present election coming up, and all the social issues around us, it’s easy to want to cloister ourselves in with other people who agree with us and chuck rocks at the “other side”. There needs to come a point where we humble ourselves enough to let go of our defensiveness and hear them out even when we strongly disagree with their opinions. We may find that we can learn something from them, or that their viewpoints were not as wacky as we first believed.
Though I am still growing in this (I’m no expert, by any means), here are a few tips for better listening:
Don’t assume that you already know what someone else is going to say. Listen to them without interrupting or interjecting your “helpful” advice.
Put away distractions
Put your phone out of reach, or turn it off when you are dedicating time to listening. Checking your phone during a conversation greatly increases the other person’s sense of insignificance, almost like they are the distraction begging you for some time together.
Know when to help
A lot of the time people don’t want to hear your fix-all solutions to their problems, they just want someone there to share their pain or experiences with. Don’t treat people like projects because they will catch on to that attitude and close themselves off to you. There are times when people can be stuck in a cycle of harmful self-shaming where you can interject—lovingly, tenderly, with much care for their personal benefit.
Listening is a chance to serve others and allow them space to feel valued and validated. There will be times when you hardly get to say anything that you may have wanted to share with them, but it may be for the better.
A lot of listening has to do with living more simply, with less distractions and a lot of patience. Know that to be a really good listener takes time and effort; but it is a skill anyone can learn.