Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…—James 1:19
Someone once said that we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Most of us have not put this into practice. Though we know that we need to be good listeners, when the moment arrives that we believe we absolutely must be heard; or our point must be made; or we are right and they’re wrong, we forget all about the listening and just try to outshout the other person. As you probably know, this will never lead to good communication or good relationships.
I tend to be one of those people who is formulating my answer, dissecting and addressing the arguments of the person I’m talking with, the entire time they are speaking. I can hardly wait to say what I want to say, and have tended to interrupt more than I should, thinking that I already know what the person is going to say before they finish. As a biblical counselor, I have had to learn to be a good listener. Good listening is a skill that does not come naturally to most people, but it is vital to good relationships. If you are struggling in a relationship today, perhaps this is part of the problem. While you can’t make that other person listen to you, you can improve the quality of your communication by becoming a better listener yourself.
Here are just a few steps toward becoming a better listener.
- Stop Talking. Proverbs 18:13—If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
You cannot talk and listen at the same time. Though you may have valid points, and you may even be empirically right, the other person will never come around to your way of thinking if they are not allowed to respond. If the other person is speaking, let them finish what they are saying before you begin to speak again. Even if what they are saying is absolutely ludicrous in your view; even if you think you know the rest of their sentence; even if you have the perfect answer and are afraid you will forget if you wait till they’re done, let them finish. This shows respect and willingness to consider their opinion. It also shows that you value the relationship, and it may earn you an uninterrupted opportunity to answer when it’s your turn.
- Make sure you know what the other person has said before you answer. Proverbs 18:2—A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
Even when we manage to hold back our words until the other person has finished speaking, we have still failed at really listening if we have not fully understood what was said. If we spend all of their talking time mentally poking holes in their argument and preparing our response, we have not really listened. True listening means hearing the person with an open heart, in an effort to understand their point of view, and their reasons for holding it. If you’re not completely sure you’ve understood, repeat back a summary of what you heard them say, and confirm that your understanding is accurate.
- Ask good questions.Proverbs 18:15— An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
The best biblical example of the importance of asking questions is Christ Himself. I once did an exercise in which I searched the Gospels to find all the questions that Jesus asked. I came up with well over 100 questions! His questions were often soul-piercing and convicting, but many of them were asked for the purpose of better understanding the person he was talking to, and their motives for the things that they did. When we ask good questions, we can clear up misunderstandings and develop a deeper sense of the reasons for someone’s argument. Asking good questions is vital to good listening.
- When you do answer, limit your words.Proverbs 10:19 —When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
The more you talk, the more opportunity you will have to sin with your words. The more you talk, the more your hearer can misconstrue or twist what you say. It is always best to say as much as you can, in as few words as possible. This is a skill that is well worth developing if you want to become a godly communicator. Read the Gospels and you will see that Jesus was a man of few words. The words He chose, though, had the maximum impact on his hearers. Think carefully about what the other person has said before you answer. This will help you to form a response that is concise yet complete.
- Keep your emotionsin check.Proverbs 17:27 —Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
This is probably the most difficult part of communication, but also the most important. It is very difficult to think rationally when emotions are running high. If you think this might be a problem, pray and ask the Lord for help before the conversation if you have the opportunity, and pray intermittently during the conversation, for continued help and wisdom. He is faithful, and He will honor your desire to respond in a godly manner. Keeping a cool spirit will go a long way in conflict resolution. Even if the other person is becoming emotional, you do not have to join them. If they accuse or attempt to draw you into sinful argument, remember Christ and his encounters with the Pharisees. He never sinned in his response, even when they became so angry that they wanted to stone him!
Good listening is a powerful tool for good communication and healthy relationships. Begin today to put these five steps toward being a better listener into practice, and watch what God will do!
Do you have more ideas or resources for becoming a better listener? Share in the comments!