Do you want to improve the relationships of your life?
Tremendously improve them. Every. Single. One.
Whether in business, ministry, marriage or friendships — improve in this one area — and every relationship of your life will improve. Guaranteed.
How, you ask?
I’ll tell you how.
Become a better listener.
That’s it. And, it sounds simple, but if you’re honest. You know it is not.
Listening is a dying art. There are truly few good listeners in the world it seems these days. We hear lots, but we listen so poorly. And, in fairness to all of us, there is far too much noise to really listen.
The word listen is defined so much stronger than just to hear. There’s an attentiveness. An intentional effort. A designed purpose for hearing.
And, one secret to improving every relationship is to improve your own listening skills.
I’ll admit. I’m not one of those naturally skilled at listening. Ask my wife. (She’s an expert listener.)
I know how. I was supposedly trained in one of my master’s degrees. In being trained to be a counselor, we were taught how to listen. It’s important for the profession. Knowing how and actually doing it are not always equal functions. Again, ask my wife. (And, by the way, I was never a very good counselor — and that was probably one of the primary reasons. I was too eager to fix problems at times.)
But, enough about my poor listening skills, the question before we proceed is do you want to be a better listener?
Or — maybe a better question — do you want to improve all the relationships in your life?
I can tell you how. Or, at least some ways. If you’ll read with an intent to listen.
Here are 5 steps to being a better listener:
Genuinely want to hear. That’s where it all starts. The most important one. Usually this one alone makes all the difference.
Think of it this way — if someone was talking about a potential job you really wanted you’d listen — for every detail you could glean. If you were a single guy pursuing the girl of your dreams and overheard someone talking about her — you’d listen. Really listen. You’d want to hear every detail. You’d soak up every morsel you could possibly attain.
The process of getting better at listening begins when you value the relationship enough to truly want to listen. When you truly care enough about the subject or the person communicating that you’ll discipline yourself to listen.
Don’t try to respond until they are finished. This is so huge. It’s one I’m most guilty of doing wrong. Once again, just ask my wife.
But it is so damaging to good listening when we interrupt. (Now there are actually counseling techniques that help direct a person’s thoughts when they are rambling, but that’s not what I’m referring to here.) This means you don’t finish their sentences — even in your mind. You don’t assume you know what they are saying before they say it. The problem with doing so is we are often wrong. We have to stop completing and listen. It devalues the person and their message when we don’t give them time to deliver it — in their way of communicating. And, yes, it takes longer for some than others.
Slow down. Some people think they listen faster than they actually do. Yea, I’m one of those too.
For good listening, it’s important to remove any distractions. Put the phone down. Turn off the television. Close the laptop. This is not the time to show you’re good at multitasking. I find I have to step away from my desk and take notes as I attempt to listen.
Make sure the time and place is adequate also. You may need to schedule an appointment to make sure you are completely available to engage. You may not always be “available” to listen when someone is ready to share. Properly listening takes time. Be honest. I’ve also had to be honest with people when the timing just wouldn’t accommodate the time they deserve to adequately listen to their story — such as a few minutes before I preach on Sunday mornings. And, we reschedule.
Focus on the voice. I’m using the word “voice” as a descriptor of the one who is hoping you will listen. Give them your undivided attention.
Look into the person’s eyes. Watch for their body language. We are all unique in how we communicate. Strive to understand their unique style. Engage with them with appropriate responses. A nod of the head when appropriate communicates you are listening. I often tell people in advance, for example, that taking notes helps me listen better. Then I can refer back to something later in the conversation if I didn’t completely understand.
Ask questions. Here’s the foolproof way to make sure you actually heard what was intended — that you were actually listening. (This is where they trained us to be good counselors — and it works.)
Especially if you have any doubts of what the person means — ask. Get clarity. Asking questions is one of the best ways to communicate that you care and that you are truly listening. And, it helps eliminate misunderstandings.
Try questions such as, “So is what I hear you saying…?” “Is this what you mean…?” Additionally, look for more than is being said. Many times questions help pull out what the other person thought was clear, but wasn’t.
Here’s to better listening. I don’t know about you, but I could stand to improve in this area.
What tips do you have?