One of the great relational gifts we possess is the ability to listen to others carefully.  Listening is an art and requires focus, mental investment and emotional presence. 

The power of listening is awesome!  When we listen to others well, we impart to them a significant gift.  A relational treasure.

Most of us have the ability to exercise this gift with great effectiveness.  The problem is that we don’t utilize this skill as often as we should.  Leaders are at times, poor listeners.  Why?  Because we are trained to talk!  That’s what we do.  We get paid to talk.  So when the need arises for us to utilize the powerful ability of carefully listening, we may not follow through as well as we could. Title Research shows that the average person listens at a 25% efficiency rate.  In a world where people are constantly overlooked and ignored, we can communicate great value to them simply by cutting the time, focusing and imparting to them the valuable gift of simply listening.  Good listening has a way of embracing people.  It is a powerful tool of ministry, attention and love.  Listening is a ministry, not a passive activity. 

In Scripture, God repeatedly asked Israel to listen to Him.  In Deut. 6:3,4 and chapter 9:1 (and many other places,) God spoke and said, “Hear, O Isael!” “Listen to Me!”  Notice He did not say, “Speak, O, Israel!”  He said, “Hear.”  “Listen.”

Jesus our Lord, on multitudinous occasions, repeated the words, “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matt. 11:15; 13:9; Mark 4:9, 23.). Jesus was saying, “Stop talking and listen to what I am saying.  Listen!” 

Listening is important.  It is crucial.  We must become better listeners. 

How does one go about increasing their effectiveness as a listener?  How do we discipline ourselves to use this ministry tool with greater effectiveness?

Let me offer a few suggestions that are time tested and very effective.

1.  Be in the moment by the giving of yourself – Your presence physically and emotionally are required to be a good listener.  Focus.  Give the gift of your presence. Henri Nouwen tells us that, “Hospitality is the ability to pay attention to the guest.”  When a listening opportunity presents itself, begin by understanding that effective listening means that we are there, in the moment.  We are with the other person in an unhurried way.  We are offering our hospitality to them to step into our hearts and lives and schedule.  One author wrote, “You surrender your personal agenda when you share attention with others.”  It is a gift and form of ministry to listen with effectiveness.

2.  Remove distractions – Try to be in a place where interruptions will not occur.  When you are connecting with someone, put your cell phone on airplane mode and concentrate on the conversation.  When seated in a restaurant or other public place, even with distractions, try to maintain eye contact to show you are, by intent, in this conversation. 

3. Be aware of body language – Sit forward or stand in such a way that your physical presence says, “I am focusing on what you are saying to me.”  Look directly at the person.  Nod to let them know you are connected.  Let them know with brief verbal indications that you are genuinely listening to what they are saying.  Affirm what you are hearing.  Leaning back and crossing your arms may not communicate your presence as powerfully as leaning into the conversation.

4.  Listen to understand – When you are receiving what the other person is saying, don’t passively listen to them but listen to understand.  What are they really communicating?  What do they need to relate to you?  How can you, in an emphatic way, allow them to communicate the content they desire?  Don’t listen with the intent to “fix” them.  Just listen for now. 

5. Let them talk – Give the person the grace to share where they are coming from and what they need.  Just let them talk.  Don’t interrupt or share a story from your past (although it may be cogent to the situation.).  Listen carefully without interruption.  Roy Bennett points out,  “Sometimes all a person wants is an empathetic ear; all he or she needs is to talk it out. Just offering a listening ear and an understanding heart for his or her suffering can be a big comfort.”

6.  Ask follow-up questions – Sometimes we may need clarification on what has been shared.  It is okay, after the person has offered a segment of their journey, to ask for clarification or to request further details to facilitate understanding.

7.  Summarize and offer suggestions – It is okay to summarize the discussion briefly.  If acceptable, you can review the conversation and offer suggestions or ideas that would possibly be helpful. You may want to say, “Would you mind if I suggest a couple of ideas about where you are right now?”  Your ideas can prove to be helpful and encouraging.  Also know that psychological studies have proven that someone who is struggling with a difficulty may find help as they talk about their situation.  It is thought that as a person talks in a secure and comfortable situation, their subconscious’s may be working through to come to a solution. 

We offer careful listening to our spouses, children, co-workers, congregation members, neighbors, extended family members and others who are in our world.  It can and should become more a part of our ministries and work as we improve grow in using this skill. 

Effective listening is love, encouragement and blessing in people’s lives.  Leo Buscaglia wrote, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around

Dr. David Roadcup

Dr. David Roadcup is Professor of Discipleship and Global Outreach Representative for TCMI International in Indianapolis, IN. He has been in ministry for over 54 years. Dr. Roadcup has authored numerous articles, three books and has authoring a series of nine books on the eldership of the church through the e2 Elders ministry. He is a graduate of Lincoln Christian University, Lincoln, IL (B.A. in Christian Ministries), Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio (M.A. in Pastoral Counseling) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL (D. Min in Christian Ministries). His great passion lies in discipling believers and helping Christians grow to deeper levels in their personal walk with Jesus Christ.Professor of Discipleship and Global Outreach Representative at TCMI

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