Class facilitators who reach more than “the choir” spend quality time learning how to listen well to people whose views do not mirror their own. Effectively listening to these people—even those who do not contain their hostility or perceived superiority—enables these class facilitators to build productive relationships.
How do they do it? Ah! There’s the challenge. Well, we know that prayer is an important component. Some successful listeners pray first and then learn listening skills; others learn the mechanics first and then pray that they will use them appropriately, consistently, and productively. I find that the wise pray in both directions, before and after receiving the tips. So prayer is high on the list of high achievers.
Prayer can mold the attitude. Instead of listening to find points with which to criticize, judge, and soundly put the other person in his or her “place,” prayer helps us develop the ability to listen with a heart and mind of love. Prayer gets right to the heart of motivation.
After we’ve prayed about improving our listening skills, we’ll hear or hear again the cold facts about listening:
- We all listen; few of us listen well.
- We all have ears; some people’s ears are just for decoration.
But if we want to listen with the goal of building relationships that draw people to Christ, we must listen with not only the heart of a productive listener but also with the skills of a productive listener:
- Get the facts. Try to find out why the person believes that way. Ask questions to clarify what is said and to get more details. Six little questions are effective tools for probing: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Your goal is to expand the conversation beyond the time and space of the moment to build a framework for the words that you are hearing. Find out where the person got the idea, the person(s) who gave that opinion credibility. Is this merely an intellectual stance for this person, or is there an emotional attachment?
- Try to pick up the underlying feelings and needs, e.g., say, “I get the sense/feeling that . . .”
- Periodically rephrase for clarification, e.g., say, “I understood you to say that . . .”
- Add some flavor and garnish to your end of the communication. As you ask those six questions—one at a time—and listen to the responses, avoid the tone and image of an interrogator. How? Appropriately season the conversation with smiles. Garnish your end of the communication with signals that show you are paying attention: nod, lean forward, raise your eyebrows, wiggle your ears. Add vocal variety: Yes. Yes! Really? Interesting. Tsk! Ah. Praise. Encourage. Defend the person. Explore his/her stance.
- Get Physical. Some people find that maintaining eye contact is a tough skill to master. A cold stare—or even a warm and fuzzy one—can quickly end a conversation or escalate one into a brouhaha. If you’re prone to staring or are afraid you will stare if you try to maintain eye contact, getting physical can help. Periodically shifting in your seat—slowly—or slowly changing your stance lends to shifting the gaze. Slightly moving your head to cruise your view in the area around the eyes—the forehead, the cheekbones, the nose, the ears—moves the gaze. Physical movement also helps us to relax, showing that we are comfortable with the other person.
Learning to listen may not be a snap, but it is a valuable investment in learning to develop loving relations—as Jesus did.
“My beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak”—James 1:19.
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists