Be a Good Listener

Communication is a two way thing – with a speaker and a listener. Both parties have an important role to play if there is to be understanding between the two parties. Unfortunately, there are more lessons given on speaking clearly than there is on listening, and yet one without the other is equally ineffective.

Give me the gift of a listening heart.

King Solomon

These 10 points are for the person listening to remember and are as valid for conversation with a friend as they are to listening to a lecture, sermon or read aloud. Many of these can be practiced in the family setting, for example, around the dinner table, in the lounge room, or in the car; any time talking is taking place we can encourage our children in any one of these skills.

10 Points for a Listener to Remember

  1. Respect the Speaker – This means you need to put aside your thoughts about their dress, their mannerisms, their presentation style and focus on the fact that they have something to say. It may not be your favourite topic, it may not interest you at all, but in considering the preciousness of others, we need to listen. It is a principle we need to live by.

  2. Hear the Speaker out – It is easy to respond too quickly with our response or our own idea, either in agreement or in disagreement. Out of respect, we need to hear the speaker out. Let them finish what they have to say. An aspect of this is that we need to moderate our responses, especially laughter, so that we can continue to hear after the joke/punch line. It is quite okay to disagree with a speaker, but disrespectful to let your opinions be known until it is your turn to take the floor.

  3. Listen to the Heart – We need to be listening for more than facts. When we connect facts to the principles or experiences the speaker is sharing we glean a much fuller picture of the topic at hand. Body language and reputation will also help you “hear” more than the words themselves may express – they will help you hear the speaker’s heart. The speaker may use emotive words that may tempt you to be quick to tune out, give them the benefit of the doubt and listen till they have finished.

  4. Body language – Our body language needs to be set in a “listening” pose – head forward with eye contact being made. We need to keep our face mobile – showing expressions as appropriate to really listening, our emotions also need to be appropriate to the topic at hand. If a speaker is telling their life’s story we need to show due empathy and interest on our face. If a speaker is telling a joke then laughter is appropriate etc.

  5. Ignore distractions – a good listener will tune out distractions in the background – be it the environment or other people even in the same discussion. Should other people be creating distractions, a good listener will try and encourage them (without causing a disturbance by doing so) to pay attention. Of course, a good listener will not be the cause of such a distraction.

  6. Engage our mind - We need to discipline our minds as well so that we are staying focused with what is being said, instead of our mind wandering around thinking of other interesting (connected or not connected) thoughts. We need to be so in touch with what is being said, emotionally and with our minds, that we can anticipate the direction in which we think the speaker is going. Though it would be rude to express our anticipation, the process that our minds go through by being so actively engaged helps us to remember what the speaker is saying.

  7. Write down notes – Obviously when we are listening to a lecture we are prepared to take notes but I find many times that listening to my friends they inspire me with an idea; my notebook is never far away. In a lecture situation our notes are the place we can ask questions and reflect back (summarise) what has been said, once again confirming it in our memory.

  8. Ask questions – It is important to ask questions in either personal or lecture situations. Questions show that we are interested. Once we ask the question we need to be ready to actively listen to the answers.

  9. Reflect back – this is often used during conflict resolution – you listen to the other person and then quickly and briefly verbalise what you have heard, giving them opportunity to correct your understanding. In homeschooling situations this is called narration, in schools – retell. When we are listening to a person we can recapitulate what we have heard, when we are listening to a lecture we can summarise in our notes what we have heard. Either way it affirms the speaker and clarifies what we have heard, and therefore increases understanding.

  10. Show appreciation – This can be shown in a variety of ways generally depending on the situation. A comment to encourage or a round of applause for example will reassure the speaker and validate their opinion, ideas, research or presentation but most importantly we want to validate the person. Remember #1 – it is the preciousness of the person that motivates us to be a good listener and to show them our appreciation.

Bad listeners, on the other hand, like to interrupt and turn the focus onto them; they create distractions and change the subject to suit themselves. They approach a conversation ready to disagree, criticize or are plain argumentative. Obviously these are the traits that we would like to turn ourselves, and our children away from.

Good listening skills will enrich both relationship building efforts as well as your learning skills. It is a life skill that we should be keenly pursuing.

Live life with your kids!

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