To listen is to care. Good listeners are in short supply. It takes time and requires patience. It also develops friendships and promotes healing.
Listeners don’t have answers. Listeners aren’t afraid of silence. They are comfortable with just being there. Good listeners are a gift from God.
The golden rule of listening is “listen unto others as you would have them listen unto you.” Since we all have problems, we all need good listeners.
We can learn to listen. That’s easier said than done, because we are so unaccustomed to listening. We talk and chatter. We are bombarded by gaudy messages and loud music. It’s a high decibel world. A good listener is a rare commodity.
You can develop listening skills. All you have to do is “Be still, and know….” (Ps. 46:10)
1. Show interest: Skill one in listening is to show interest in others. That’s the first step in establishing a meaningful relationship. What can you learn from this person? What can she learn from you? Listening and sharing are built on trust. You convey that you are a trustworthy person as you show interest. When a problem arises, a person will naturally turn to you if you have shown an interest in them.
That doesn’t mean you are an automatic problem-solver. It simply means you are there as a sounding board for others. You don’t have to say much at all. Just listen.
2. Stay calm: Don’t let a highly charged problem get the best of you, causing your anxiety level to rise, thus making you feel like you’ve got to offer an instant solution. A simple “That sounds like a tough problem,” may be all you need to say. Sometimes our friend’s problems remind us of our own. Then we lapse into the “rattle syndrome” and begin talking about our problems.
3. Maintain contact: Friends are fickle, here today and gone tomorrow. A listener-friend is different. A good listener keeps in touch and keeps on listening. Maintain contact.
4. Listen for feelings: Listening is perhaps life’s hardest task. It takes concentration and determination. You must concentrate on what is being said and listen for the feelings behind the words.
There is no such thing as an instant answer. Offer options bu beware of becoming an “answer-person.” Sooner or later you will answer wrong.
5. Resist easy answers: Skill five reinforces skill four. Listeners aren’t answer-oriented. Even if they know the answer, one should avoid giving it. Why? Because it deprives the friend from discovering the answer herself. It’s okay to suggest options — but only after listening carefully enough to understand the problem. Listeners are often pleasantly surprised at this comment: “You’ve helped me so much. I think I know now how to tackle my problem.” What has the listener done to deserve this praise? Why, he listened, of course!
6. Empathize: Skill six means you enter into the thoughts of another person. You not only listen for feelings but also feel what your friend is feeling. You understand, rejoice and weep because you have heard. Souls touch, and wounds are healed. There is a moment of closeness. Such moments are extremely rare, even among close friends. Most friendships cannot tolerate such intimate closeness. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen; it just means it doesn’t happen often.
7. Offer encouragement: Listening doesn’t mean you sit still with your mouth taped shut. Good listeners must offer good responses. If a person trusts us, then the least we must do is offer a word of encouragement. Barnabas, a New Testament friend of Paul, was known as the “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36) because he gave people gifts of strength and courage for their life’s journey. Saying “I want to give to you a hand of support and encouragement” will do wonders to lift the drooping head and spirit of a friend.
8. Gently confront: Sometimes our well-meaning friends bug the daylights out of us. We listen and listen and listen, but nothing does any good. We even offer unheeded advice. Finally, we feel the most loving thing we can do is tell our friend to look elsewhere for help. Or we lovingly tell him to eliminate the self-pity and to get on with life. Or we gently nudge him toward other possible solutions. We earn the right to confront because we have spent lots of time listening.
9. Follow-up: Skill nine is related to skill three (maintaining contact). Follow-up means you are willing to make yourself continuously available to your friend. “If you ever need someone to listen, just give me a call” is a friend’s way of offering ongoing support.
10. Continue support: Listening is an art. It can be learned by observing those who do it well. A good listener can teach others by example to listen. Listening is contagious. Skill 10 in listening means you never stop listening. You listen to the silences of your own heart; you listen to the joys and pains of those around you; and in it all you listen to the music of God which makes it all worthwhile.