One of the basic needs of people is to be understood. When you listen to what people say you learn about them and better understand them. Being listened to makes people feel respected, valued, affirmed, loved, appreciated -- understood. Failure to listen comes across as indifference. If people don't feel you care, they will either clam up or stay superficial.
Click on a topic below:
Dynamics of Listening
A Biblical Process
How to Handle What You Hear
What Happens When You Listen
This is a biblical process in burden bearing:
Their Part:Therefore confess your sins to each other... (James 5:16)
Your Part:Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
He who answers before listening -- that is his folly and his shame. (Prov. 18:13)
The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out. (Prov. 18:15)
Listening is part of the burden bearing process (Gal. 6:2). How will you bear one another's burdens until you learn what they are? How will you learn if you don't listen?
But what do you do with what you hear?
What not to do:
What to do:
This does not mean you agree with everything they say. Nor does it mean you must act on what they say. But, if you do respond, you are acting rather than reacting. In so doing you are attaching more value to the person than to what is being said.
The word for being concerned, or caring as some translations suggest, is from the Greek root 'merizo' which means to be drawn in different directions, distracted ... an anxious care. In other words, in the process of listening you get what the person is saying so well that it affects you too. If they are suffering, you suffer. If they are rejoicing, you rejoice. Wait, you say. Such care could immobilize, overwhelm, or burn you out. Does God really expect us to listen to a person that well?? The answer is "yes" because of what He expects you to do with those cares.
1 Peter 5:7 - Cast all your cares on Him. (root word for 'cares' is 'merizo' which is the same word used when we are told to care for one another)
Philippians 4:6-7 - Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (root word for 'anxious' is 'merizo' which is the same word used when we are told to care for one another)
You are not going to be immobilized, overwhelmed, or burned out if you take this care to God in prayer. It is God's responsibility to rescue them, not yours. That doesn't mean you don't get involved in what you hear, but neither do you take things into your own hands. You move when and how God says. Christians can genuinely care and feel with the person as they listen because they do not have to bear the weight of the burden. Any heaviness you feel will be replaced with peace when you leave it with the Lord.
Let's look at the listening process again.
They share, or confess,
what is going on in their life.
They feel understood
and share more.
You understand better,
truly care, and pray effectively for them.
They get healed,
or gain perspective,
which empowers them.
(Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other
so that you may be healed. - James 5:16)
Why it is hard to listen and what to do about it:
Assumptions - You think you know what the person is going to say so you don't listen or you interrupt to fill in the gaps.
Solution: Listen with an open mind.
Bias - You let the person's outward appearance or opinions block you from truly hearing what is said.
Solution: Don't focus on any one thought or emotion that you have.
Control - You feel the need to interrupt, rush, and/or correct what the person is saying.
Solution: Listen with your heart as well as with your ears remembering the importance of relationship. Maintain a relaxed, non-hurried posture that communicates that their agenda is important to you. Don't be petty.
Distraction - You lose attentiveness because you think faster than they speak so you think about what you are going to say next.
Solution: Stay in the moment. Hang on to every word. Refrain from planning ahead to what you will say. Maintain eye contact which will help you keep focused on the person and communicate that you are with them.
Ego - You put your own need to be the focus of attention before the other person.
Solution: Work at respecting and valuing the other person. Learn to love your neighbor as yourself.
Just a couple pointers about listening & empathizing:
Take it all in. Focus on more than their words alone. Read the non-verbal cues such as posture, gestures, facial expressions, pauses, voice inflections, tone of voice, and possible flatness in their voice.
Remember that good listening is active, not passive. Be sure to express accurate empathy by paraphrasing or summarizing what the person has said. At times use open-ended questions for clarification or to draw the person out further.
Click below for more on empathy:
Putting Yourself in Someone Else's Shoes - Why?
Putting Yourself in Someone Else's Shoes - How?
Also Read: Christ-like Communication: Attentive