The shy, the eccentric, the jolly, and the serious all have one trait in common – they all love to talk about themselves. They can deny it just as the rest of us are tempted to do; but, at the end of the day, everyone enjoys talking about themselves. We may be cautious about who we tell and what we say. We may hold back out of politeness or fear; but, in our deepest parts, we want to be heard, understood, and appreciated.
Recently, one of our clients shared that she wanted to have an open-door policy in her future home. She wanted to create an environment where people would feel heard and accepted. The thought of entertaining such a policy made me feel overwhelmed. Could I handle people coming in and out of my house all the time?! God created us all with different talents and proclivities and each of us can make different contributions to society. I am thankful for people who have such a burden for hospitality.
Give the Gift of a Listening Ear
Though I cannot imagine such an open-door lifestyle, her words made me think. Even if we do not have a “Come one, come all” open-door policy for our home, we can still offer the gift of listening. We spend hours upon hours looking for the right gifts for our loved ones, but is our time and attention not the best gift of all? Why do we spend more time shopping for our loved ones than listening or interacting with them?
We cannot wrap our ears and put them under the tree (though, wrapping fake ears with a note that says, “I am listening” might be a funny gag!), but we can offer this listening gift to friends and strangers all year long. We can take an interest in the gentlemen at the bus stop. We can engage the cashier at the grocery store. We can answer the phone when our friends call, even if we desperately want to watch TV instead.
Though we have to set and keep healthy boundaries, we can be more intentional about sharing our time, our closed mouths, and our open ears.
Nateefa, the Sounding Board
When I was a teenager, I would call my friend, Nateefa, to get her advice. Typically, I would start babbling, and she would quietly listen. After completing my data dump, I felt a thousand times better. “Thank you, Teefa!” She would kind of laugh and say, “I did not do anything.” Well, she did. She let me explode, and that helped me organize my thoughts.
Allow People the Opportunity to Talk about Themselves without Shame
When practicing your listening skills, you can:
- Ask questions. Show your interest by asking clarifying questions, unless you sense the need to stay completely quiet.
- Be interested. Stay focused on the speaker’s face. Ignore your phone. Use appropriate facial expressions. Mirror his or her body language.
- Avoid the (strong!) temptation to bring the conversation back to yourself. I am preaching to the choir on this one. In an attempt to connect with people, I often compare their stories to mine in some way. “You had a traumatic boyfriend experience in the eighth grade?! That happened to me too! Let me tell you about it! We can bond over having this in common!” Regardless of my good intentions, the speaker may feel like I hijacked the conversation. Instead, once the speaker finishes talking, you can share your story if you think your comments would still be appreciated.
- If requested, offer thoughts and ideas. Sometimes people just need to open the floodgates. They are not interested in advice. They already know what to do. They are just pent up inside and need to release their emotions. However, after emptying their hearts, some will ask you what you think about their situation. In those moments, feel free to share advice and ideas. If you patiently listen to them, they will be more likely to take your words into consideration. It is the famous principle come to bear: People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Those who listen first (and talk second) gain a lot of trust over the years. Notice how many people hang around good listeners. Those interested, people-focused individuals at church are almost always surrounded by people. We naturally gravitate towards those who make us feel valued and validated.
We all know how it feels to be ignored or to be interrupted in the middle of a story. It is not a happy feeling at all. Those who put distractions aside and lean in towards us when we are talking are priceless gems.
We do not have to be rich or even interesting to be good listeners. Active listening is a skill we can learn and one of the greatest blessings we can offer the world. And, listening skills are invaluable in marriage!
Are you ready to give the gift of listening?