Everyone in this world has a different personality, and with those different personalities come their own tendencies, strengths, and struggles; they all have their own skills. Being able to listen to others – really listen to what they’re saying – is one of these skills, and it’s one of the most important skills to master if we’re going to communicate well and show care for each other.
It’s always helpful to know how you can better yourself in terms of listening because many relationships are contingent on this kind of communication. Romans 12:15-16 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” So, in order to be followers of Christ we need to know how to listen to other people, and bear their burdens and their joys. I’m no communication expert, but through both my experience listening and being listened to, I can give you a few tips.
1 | Listen to understand, not to respond.
I’m sure you’ve all heard this one before, but it’s always helpful to remember when you’re conversing with another person. Many times our minds have a tendency to jump ahead to what we can say back. Sometimes we’re just letting the sound of our friend’s voice bounce back and forth in our heads among what we want for lunch or plan to do later, or whatever else we think about. And that’s where the problem comes in: we’re still not truly listening; we’re only hearing so that we can start talking again. So, we need to remind ourselves to listen to understand.
2 | Get to know the speaker.
By “get to know,” I don’t necessarily mean become best friends with the speaker (although that would be helpful, too 😉 ), I mean learn her personality, and find out the basics about her life and situation. Learn likes, dislikes, passions, and try to gain insight on her perspective before or during the conversation because it will not only help you become a closer friend to that person, it will help you understand where she’s coming from when she’s talking to you.
3 | Look at her when she’s talking.
Simple eye contact can help when you’re trying to listen and understand. You can read your friend’s facial expressions better, might be able to pay more attention, and you can focus on who’s speaking. All of this will enrich the conversation.
4 | Put yourself in her shoes.
Now that you understand more about the person you’re talking to, you have an opportunity to put yourself in her shoes. Especially if you already have trouble paying attention, it could be helpful picture yourself in your friend’s situation. Really put yourself in his or her shoes and try to understand from that perspective. Try not to think of it from your own viewpoint because your understanding of the situation based on any number of variables might not be strong enough to understand.
5 | If you don’t understand, ask.
This one is huge. It’s a little hurtful when you’re trying to talk to someone about your life or something that happened during the day (big or small), and they just pretend they know what you’re talking about just for the sake of conversation. So, don’t be that person; never just say, “yeah” or “gotcha” if you really don’t “got them” – it’s annoying and makes you seem uncaring and uninterested. If you’re not quite sure what your friend is talking about or don’t understand something she just said – all you have to do is ask! I’m sure she won’t mind repeating it if that’s the case. It will go a long way for the conversation, and you might even learn something new.
6 | Don’t let your mind wander.
This may seem obvious, but it’s so important to realize that we’re in control of our own minds. We have the ability to pay attention to something if we need to and want to. If someone is talking to you, do the best you can not to let your mind wander. Like I mentioned in number one, it can be very easy to let your mind trail off to what you’re going to eat for lunch or your to-do list – but it doesn’t have to. Focus on all or one of the tips above and focus on the person across from you.
7 | Eliminate all distractions.
Technological distractions are probably the biggest distraction for bad listeners. Put away your phone, your iPad, your laptop; turn off the TV, and even music if you have to. We don’t always realize it, but most of the time we can’t actually multi-task. While it may be easy for you to listen to music while you study or read, it could be that the TV or radio can distract you from your friend because you’re waiting to hear your favorite song or see what happens to the character on a show. But we all have to realize that those things aren’t as important as the person you’re sitting next to or across from, and most of the time, it’s fiction. As far as phones, iPads, and laptops – it’s plain unfriendly and rude to hold a screen in front of your face while someone is trying to have a face-to-face conversation with you. I’ve certainly been guilty of this (I’m sure most people have), and it’s extremely harmful to relationships if we’re texting another or scrolling through Instagram while trying to have a conversation. That’s not multi-tasking; it’s just not paying attention.
8 | Remember that person is a soul.
It’s helpful to me to remember that the person I’m listening to is a soul. She’s a soul in need of love, encouragement, advice, or care, and she wants my friendship, or she most likely wouldn’t be talking to me. You never know how much that one conversation could encourage her, so make the most of it. If you can help even one soul by simply listening to them, then that’s absolutely worth your time and attention.
9 | Follow up.
Don’t let that one conversation be the last one. If your friend was telling you about a problem she’s been dealing with or sharing something personal, it might be a good idea to follow up with her. You could send her a card, text, email, or call her and ask her how she’s doing or if there are any new developments. This isn’t nosy; it just shows her that you care and that you were listening, especially if she came to you first. I like to do this, and it’s always encouraging when someone does it for me. Sometimes it can be difficult to do, but it’s worth it if you’re able and have her contact information.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfull the law of Christ.
// These 9 things always help me! You may not need them all, but even doing one of these things could greatly improve your communication and relationship with another person. And that’s always worth it. If you have any more to add, feel free to comment below! 🙂