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4 Steps to Practice Great Listening

4 Steps to Practice Great Listening

Yadda yadda yadda. That’s what we think when listening to certain people talk. The sound of them droning on and on either drives us to sleep, ignore, or immediately forget. Whatever information comes through one ear, goes right out the other. To be fair, sometimes people don’t deserve our attention. They self-aggrandize and talk only about themselves and what they know. Though sometimes we’re at fault, not listening to someone who’s being vulnerable and sharing. As Christians, among the many traits we should show others, effective listening is one.

“A wise correction to a receptive ear is like a gold ring or an ornament of gold.” (Proverbs 25:12)

As politics continue to infiltrate our daily lives, from tv shows to clothing brands, our relationships have come under attack. There is plenty of division to be found at church, among friends, families, even at work. Relationships are crumbling because we are treating others as politics dictate, not as God has commanded. Clashing abounds, while forgiveness is scarce.

Truthfully, conflict is bound to occur in our lives. We’re sinners and unable to change that flaw (Romans 3:23). However, even in the face of conflict we can choose reconciliation, and we only get to reconciliation by hearing out the other side.

If you or someone you know has found themselves in conflict recently, don’t lose hope. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). While we pray for relational healing and restoration, we can do our part to communicate well. Here are 4 steps to practice great listening.

Step One: Stop Talking

Have you ever been listening to someone, especially in an argument, and you were waiting for the first opening to strike? You had something to say and the moment you could, you spoke. Maybe you even cut over them. I’m guilty of that. In those moments I am also guilty of not listening. My focus instead was on winning the debate and proving them wrong, not making them feel understood. Chances are, I didn't understand them completely because I was not fully listening.

“My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)

What do we expect to achieve in these difficult conversations if we aren’t listening? Is the other person supposed to shut up and let us talk? Or do we assume we know what the other person is saying, thus justifying talking over them?

The first step to great listening is to stop talking. We can’t do both at the same time, not well. Moreover, if we were in the other person’s shoes, we would want to be heard. Not cut off. All we have to do is consider the moments we wanted to share something meaningful with someone. In the moments we felt most cherished and understood, the other person was listening to us. That’s the same approach we need to take with others.

A relationship where listening doesn’t occur is not bound to last long. Being in agreement is nice, but if two people cannot agree to disagree sometimes then the relationship may need to end.

Step Two: Ask Questions

One way to show you’re listening (or being heard) is by asking questions. Seeking greater details helps clarify confusion in an argument, and reflects a deep level of care in a conversation. Questions help us to engage with the information being discussed. More engagement means more potential growth for both parties.

By asking the right questions, we can get the right answers. We gain greater understanding of why people think the way they do, or even ourselves.

Consider a conversation between two Christians arguing about the morality of abortion. By asking questions like, “Where do you see abortion supported in the Bible?” instead of saying, “You clearly don’t read your Bible,” we can have more constructive conversations. People won’t be isolated by their ideologies, and we’ll be spreading God’s kingdom.

“Listen to counsel and receive instruction so that you may be wise later in life.” (Proverbs 19:20)

Step 3: Think Before Speaking

A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)

After we have listened and asked questions, we should do our part to process what we heard. As the aphorism goes, “Think before you speak.” Carelessly speaking could reveal many things about us, none of them good. Christians are called to love others. One way we show love is definitely in how we speak.

If we can think about our words before speaking, we will likely offend less, and show more compassion. Not only may our minds change by listening more, but we’ll know what to address with the other person.

One mistake Christians make, just like anybody else, is knowing what they want to say and saying just that. They don’t think about what the other person shared, they just have a point to make. For example, a couple of days ago I was explaining to a fellow Christian why people support abortion. I told him that people define life differently than him and I, along with some other reasons. Instead of listening well, he gave a long-winded response that ended with, “Can we both agree that lust is a sin?” Well, we weren’t even talking about lust.

Step 4: Be Empathetic

“The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

Believers and even non-believers like to recite this verse in conversations. I have heard this line evoked in discussions about vaccines, masks. However, one part of the verse is often overlooked. Christians are called to love others, but to love others as they love themselves.

We can apply this idea to listening by understanding that if we want others to listen to us, we should do our part to listen to them. We shouldn’t expect to speak without being spoken to, or be heard without ever listening. That wouldn’t be fair.

If we can be more empathetic in our conversations, we are bound to create relationships that last because they stand the tests of time and conflict.

To Be Heard

“See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

There are clear merits in listening, and if we are ever tempted to doubt, we can simply reflect on our relationship with God. Scripture informs us that He hears each of our prayers. He blesses us according to His will. God remains close to us. That is a very ideal relationship that conflict can’t keep us from, not unless we choose to be apart from God.

People don’t care for us as much as the Lord, nor are the relationships as sin-free, but trying to listen to others as God listens to us is bound to strengthen our connections.

How would we feel or what would we think if every prayer spoken was not heard by God? Would we have as much trust? Would we have as much initiative to pray?

If people didn’t listen to us, we would have less reason to speak, less connection. Not being heard would leave us feeling unknown. But we are known, by others, by God. Let’s do our part to make others feel known as well.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes

aaron brown profile pic bioAaron D'Anthony Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes to Salem Web Network’s Crosswalk platform and supports various clients through the freelancing website Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo. 

Get in touch at aarondanthony.com and check out his short story “Serenity.”