Hearing Aids for Listeners

Learning Objectives
Upon completion of this module, facilitators will:

  • Learn how to hear it all.
  • Understand the five basic listening approaches.
  • Be able to implement basic strategies that build productive listeners.

A couple attended the communication segment of a marriage seminar that was held at their church. The two listened intently as the presenter emphasized the need for husbands and wives to know what is important to each other. Speaking to the men, he said: “For instance, gentlemen, can you name your wife’s favorite flower?” One husband leaned over and gently whispered to his wife: “Pillsbury All-Purpose, right, Honey?” Ah, communication! Or, as in this man’s case, the lack of it!

As clichéd as the statement may be, “communication is an art.” Effective communication is a key that can open the door to opportunities and enhance relationships. Nonetheless, it is also a skill that can be learned by those who don’t come by it naturally—which includes most of us.

A major component of communication is listening. A good listener is a valuable commodity and one who will never want for friends or people clamoring to associate with him or her. Listening is not something done by one person. Successful listening is a two-way street, a give-and-take activity that can benefit all participants.

In Proverbs 2:2 we are given a tip to use to maximize our communication. We are told to “listen with [our] ears for wisdom” (The Clear Word).

Sabbath School members gain much when their facilitators are good listeners. According to Joan Svoboda, director of Management Strategies, Inc., effective listening skills are “relevant to all professions and all situations where someone wants to be successful and connect with people in an authentic and comfortable way. Listening skills are extremely important for all relationships—whether in business, in the schools, at home or just even at a gathering of friends” (http://www.joansvoboda.com/communicating.htm).

Just think how many more people could be brought closer to Christ through Sabbath School facilitators who care enough to listen—really listen—to what participants are saying, and to help them accordingly. Motivational speaker Nichols asserts that “the most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” So often, we don’t hear others because we are too busy playing roles.

Let’s examine the characteristics of poor listeners that were taken from the Purdue University English Department Writing Lab:

  • Mind reader: You’ll hear little or nothing as you think, What is this person really thinking or feeling?
  • Rehearser: Your mental tryouts, “Here’s what I’ll say next,” tune out the speaker.
  • Filterer: Some call this selective listening. With either term listeners hear only what they want to hear.
  • Dreamer: Drifting off during a face-to-face conversation can lead to an embarrassing, “What did you say?” or “Could you repeat that?”
  • Identifier: If you refer everything you hear to your experience, you probably didn’t hear what was said.
  • Comparer: When you get sidetracked by assessing the messenger, you’re sure to miss the message.
  • Derailer: Changing the subject too quickly soon tells others you’re not interested in anything they have to say.
  • Sparrer: You hear what’s said but quickly belittle it or discount it. That puts you in the same class as the derailer.
  • Placater: Agreeing with everything you hear just to be nice or to avoid conflict does not mean you’re a good listener.

Research indicates that most people, more than 70 percent of the time, either change or “screen out” what is communicated to them. Most miscommunication can be attributed to differences in listening approaches. There are a number of descriptors:

     Appreciative: Seeks enjoyment, entertainment, or inspiration; listens in a relaxed manner.
      Empathic: Supports the speaker and learns from others’ experiences; listens without being judgmental.
      Comprehensive: Understands relationships among ideas; listens to make sense of and to organize information.
      Discerning: Listens to comprehend the message and determine significant details; listens for complete information.
      Evaluative: Listens to make a decision—to accept or reject—based on information given.

If facilitators know their own listening approaches and have a general knowledge of all listening approaches, they can make adjustments, identify, and minimize listening problems. They can learn to hear it all.

Now that we have familiarized ourselves with how not to listen, here are some things we can do, as Sabbath School facilitators, to maximize our listening potential and get the fullest understanding of what our members are telling us:

  • Focus on what is being said: Avoid distractions, such as flipping through the pages of a book (Bible or Sabbath School Quarterly included!). Be totally involved in what the member is saying, but don’t let your emotions make you hear what you want to hear and not what is actually being said.
  • Make eye contact: Concentrate on the person who is talking. Let him/her know that you are keying in on the content of the message. In addition to the eye contact, use positive body signals—for example, leaning forward, nodding, or smiling—to show interest.
  • Keep your own ego out of it: Don’t think you know everything or have all the answers. Avoid finishing a speaker’s thoughts or interrupting in the middle of a thought. People really want to be understood, to have their opinions, feelings, and experiences validated.
  • Ask questions: This lets the speaker know that you are really listening, that you truly want to hear what he/she is saying. This is where the active part of listening kicks in. Open-ended questions yield the best results, requiring the speaker to be more specific and to give more detail. Use words and phrases such as: “Why?”; “Could you explain that?”; “How did that happen?”
  • Paraphrase the information:When a person has finished speaking, wait a moment; then, to make certain that you understand what was said, rephrase it. Use such phrases as “So what you’re thinking is . . .”; “Do I understand that . . . ?”; “So what you’re saying is . . .”; “Could you give me an example of . . . ?” (qtd. from Joan Svoboda). This way, the speaker will know that you do understand. This also gives him/her a chance to possibly clarify a point or points.
  • Do not be judgmental: Be open, but don’t criticize or shame the speaker. Doing so could erode his/her sense of safety in talking with you in the first place.
  • Empathize: Show your Christian love and compassion. Put yourself in the speaker’s position and imagine his/her experience. Totally focus on one of God’s children who is sharing his/her joy or hurt.
  • Talk less: Do more listening than talking; never finish a speaker’s sentences or interrupt to interject your own comments. Just be patient and be silent.

Above all, remember that it’s not the words that count. It’s the people—the members—who are most important. They are the ones with whom the Lord has entrusted you to help lead them into a closer walk with Him. In fact, as you listen to your members, both in a church setting and outside of the church walls, you are representing Christ. You certainly can follow His example:

“The Lord is in active communication with every part of His vast dominions. He is represented as bending toward the earth and its inhabitants. He is listening to every word that is uttered. He hears every groan; He listens to every prayer . . .” (Ellen White, My Life Today, p. 292, italics supplied).

Jesus hears it all. And at your optimum level of communication, you can hear all that’s humanly possible. You can hear it all.

Dorothy J. Patterson
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Self-Assessment 8

  • What is your personal listening approach or combination of listening approaches?
  • How can you become a more active listener?
  • How can you, as a facilitator, use knowledge of your own listening approach(es) to make your members more comfortable sharing with other class members and with you on a personal level?
  • What can you do to encourage better listening skills among your class members?