Dear Reader,

I wish I was a better listener. I think it is a hugely important skill and yet it seems to go against our natures. It is an other-focused thing to really listen to people rather than a self-centered thing. And we are naturally (that is, in our sinful human natures) self-focused.

I am naturally a quiet person and I do think that helps with listening. It is hard to listen to others when one is talking a lot oneself. I have seen this in some children I watched. It seems like there were so many words coming out of them all the time that nothing anyone else said sunk in. It was as if all the air in the room could only flow one direction, out of their mouths and not into their ears.

But to be a good listener it is not necessary to be completely quiet. One of the people who most impressed me was an older woman who visited with us. She was very good at carrying on a conversation, but she also actually paid attention to the replies. She asked me about my family and I responded my telling her about my mother in Virginia. And she asked me, “And is your father deceased? You said ‘she’ and not ‘they.'” My father did indeed pass away a few years ago, but most people who not have picked up on tis detail. She was listening not just to what my words meant to communicate but to what was behind them.

And I think that is a key to being a good listener. People do not always tell you everything directly. You also need to listen to what is behind their words. It can be what is left out, like my father in the account of my family. It can be in how they phrase things. One thing I learned from Oprah is that what follows a “but” is often important. You can see this especially in apologies. I tell my kids not to use their “but”s when they say they are sorry. For example, if I say, “I am sorry I offended you, but you were really annoying me”, I am not really giving a good apology. It is what is after the but that matters and in this example I am accusing more than apologizing.

I would love to hear other insights into how to understand, and not just hear, what others are saying. Does anyone have any good stories or tips?



One response to this post.

  1. Isn’t it marvellous to find a friend who is a good listener?
    Like the lady you spoke of, I find people respond well if there are questions and a genuine interest shown. Especially those who are hurting and finding it difficult to express their needs will appreciate gentle, thoughtful probing.
    We should listen twice as much as we speak!


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