Solomon, the writer the Old Testament book, Proverbs, had the gift of wisdom. The book has exactly 31 chapters. For the month of October, I will be blogging through the book of Proverbs looking for one tip of wisdom for each day.
In chapter 1, Solomon writes, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning.” (Proverbs 1:5) We talk a lot! We have a lot to say; stories for co-workers, instructions for children, advice for friends, and reminders for spouses. In our world of words, it is easy to believe, “I best influence others with my words.” Often we use our words to demonstrate our expertise on a given subject. I wonder if we have more influence when we simply listen?
How would your relationships and mine change, if we became experts at listening? There are people all around us who are simply longing to be heard. So, how do we become expert listeners? I have a few suggestions:
- Learn to ask questions. In your question asking teach yourself to ask questions that require more than a yes, or no answer. For example at work you might ask your co-worker, “How did you spend last evening?” Then listen closely as they respond. That one simply question may open up feelings that they are longing to share with someone – anyone who will take the time to listen.
- Listen for feeling words. In a conversation listen for words like: anxious, worried, angry, upset, hurt, confused, tired or sad. These words describe a person’s emotions. Rather than offering advice on how to “fix” their feelings, empathize. Simply listen and acknowledge their feelings. For example you might want to reassure them that you have heard their heart by saying something like, “It sounds like you are feeling anxious over your finances.”
- Invite them to tell you more. Advice giving shuts a person down. Instead, you might want to try, “That sounds so stressful. Tell me more.”
- Listen with your body. What do I mean by that? I mean fully engage. Look the person in the eyes while they are talking. If they are pouring out their hear to you and you are looking over their shoulder you are sending them a message that you are more interested in something else.
I am convinced that part of our spiritual transformation is learning to become a more effective listener. James echoed Solomon’s words in the New Testament writing, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19) Try it out today – see if you can offer empathetic and attentive listening to five people.