Do you know how to listen so people will talk?
Don’t confuse it with this:
How to talk so people will listen.
Those are two different things. Too often we’re fixated on the latter—trying to gain an audience for our words.
But the former is a better (and harder) thing to do—training ourselves to quiet down so we can hear the hearts of others.
“People feel more loved and valued if we are actively and attentively listening to them. So why don’t we take listening more seriously?”
– Becky Harling
I’m not normally brave. But I got brave and asked my husband Jeff about my listening skills. I asked him to rate me based on a quiz, “How Would You Rank Me as a Listener?”.
The quiz was from Becky Harling’s new book, How to Listen So People Will Talk: Build Stronger Communication and Deeper Connections. Here are a few of the questions. Ask someone else how you rate from Rarely, Sometimes, or Often.
- I am guilty of interrupting.
- I am present when you talk—not texting, checking email, or looking at social media.
- I dive in with my own story or experience.
- When you communicate with me you feel hurried.
- When we disagree I offer understanding.
I didn’t like all Jeff’s answers about me. Because I knew they were true.
I’m not always present when he talks. My body language doesn’t always invite someone to tell me more. I can get defensive when my opinions are challenged.
Do people ever tell you that you seem distracted, too? Do you ever feel you don’t listen to others because you don’t want to put down the thing you’re currently doing? Do you think you can successfully multitask when someone is trying to tell you something important?
Too often our poor listening skills hinder our relationships. And for valid reasons.
- We care more about our stories than theirs.
- We want to be understood more than we want to understand.
- We don’t want to stop what we’re doing to pay full attention.
But that’s not love. If we want to improve our ability to love, one way is to improve our ability to listen.
“One of the most profound ways we demonstrate the love of Christ is by our availability to listen.”
3 Ways to Listen Better
If you need to work on your listening skills, too, here are 3 tips from Harling’s book. (Get the book to see many more tips.)
Silence Your Inner Fixer (chapter 4)
Harling suggests considering these five reasons to slow down and listen before you dive in to fix the person talking.
(1) You have enough to worry about in your own life.
(2) Your information might be incomplete.
(3) You’ll come across as judgmental or condescending.
(4) You’ll be guilty of demeaning the person receiving your advice. Most problems are complicated.
(5) You’re not God.
Once you hear the person, Harling offers these three questions to shift the focus:
- Where do you see God in this problem?
- Is God speaking anything to you?
- What do you think you might do?
Ask Great Questions (chapter 5)
Harling says 80% of a successful conversation involves listening. Jesus was the master of great questions.
“What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41), “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28), “Why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26), “Do you love me?” (John 21:17), “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29), “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6).
When we ask great questions, people don’t feel attacked. They feel safe to answer.
Choose from these suggestions.
- Then what happened?
- How did you feel when he or she said that?
- How did others in the room react when that happened?
- What do you think you should do next?
- What does your spouse think?
- Is there anything I can do to help you?
- What do you need from me?
Seek to Understand (chapter 8)
Harling says that confrontation is inevitable. It is uncomfortable. But it also can be transformational. When Jesus was confronted by his friends:
“He didn’t get defensive or frazzled. He didn’t overexplain or try to convince His friends that He had chosen what was most important. He simply said, ‘We’re going to the next town.’ He valued His friends’ opinions but didn’t feel pressured by them.”
Some practical principles for listening in conflict:
- Pause, pray, and praise God that you don’t have to feel panic.
- Don’t say anything for a few minutes.
- Don’t interrupt—let the other person finish dumping.
- Listen for something to agree with.
- Stay curious.
- Affirm how much you value the relationship, even if you can’t reach a compromise.
Now Practice Listening
Which skill can you work on this week? Maybe one at a time would be easier than all at once.
“Listening is like a muscle. The more we develop and train, the stronger our listening skills will become and the more effective we’ll become as listeners.”
Harling says there are at least seventy verses in the Bible that talk about listening in some form. It’s a holy activity. Jesus listenened to people. And if we want to be more like Jesus, we need to listen better, too.
Because when we listen better, our friends and family will talk to us more. Everyone desires to be heard. Everyone deserves to be heard.
I haven’t been brave enough yet to retake the quiz with Jeff. I don’t know if my listening skills have improved enough to improve my score. I still have more work to do.
I’ll keep listening.
Here are a few more select quotes from Becky Harling in How to Listen So People Will Talk. I’m challenged by them. You, too?
“In order to humbly listen to others, we need to increase our self-awareness and then surrender our right to be the expert.”
~ * ~
“Whenever you grow defensive in a conversation, it’s driven by fear. It could be the fear of losing control, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of not having a voice, or fear of not being respected. . . . But the instant you become defensive, you’re unable to listen effectively. Instead, you’re defending your heart.”
~ * ~
“Jesus’ opinions were right about everything because He was God. He is the only One with the absolute correct view of everything. But even Jesus didn’t push His opinions on others. Instead, He listened and only spoke truth in response.”
~ * ~
“Let someone be the star of their own show. Keep the focus on the person talking.”
~ * ~
“Don’t tell people what to do; ask them questions.”
~ * ~
“The principle of ‘tell me more’ is to invite the other person to keep going with their story. You might say, ‘Tell me more,’ or ask, ‘And then what happened?’ or ‘How did that make you feel?’”
~ * ~
“Try to figure out what the other person is feeling by asking questions rather than trying to change the other person’s thinking.”
~ * ~
“Let your friends tell their stories. It’s okay if they get a few details wrong. They don’t need you to be the fact police. Instead, let it go.”
* * *
Which listening skill do you need to improve most? (1) Silence your inner fixer, (2) Ask great questions, (3) Seek to understand.
Read more from Becky Harling at her blog:
- Treasure Your Friends by Asking Them Great Questions
- Why Listening to Someone’s Story is Important
- How to Listen So Your Adult Kids Will Talk
My thanks to Bethany House Blogger Review
Program for the review copy of this book