Have you ever been in the middle of telling someone something important when you suddenly felt like the other person wasn’t listening? Perhaps it was their eyes that darted away or the absent-minded “m-hmm” that gave you that impression.
We’ve all experienced this.
In those moments, an uncomfortable feeling always settles deep-down inside of me. A feeling that implies that the other person isn’t interested. It’s a feeling of rejection and if I admit it, it hurts.
Our Generation Can’t Focus
Not being able to listen well is a problem that has intensified over time. We are a generation that demands entertainment. Concentrating on one thing for a long time is hard. Our attention span has shrunken, and we can barely sit in silence for even a moment.
A few years ago, I decided to make “listening well” my goal for that year. I wish I could say that I have mastered it by now. The truth of the matter is that I still struggle to truly listen at times. However, I can see that I have improved my listening skills over time. Here are some guidelines I try to follow that help me stay on track.
Listen to Understand Not to Respond
As a child, I remember trying to remember all the things I wanted to say in response to what a person was telling me by counting them out with my fingers. Every time I thought of something else I wanted to say, I’d hold up another finger. As soon as the person took a breath, I would say something like “there’s four things I want to say.”
That’s not how to do it.
Before you can get down to the “how” of something, you need to clarify the “why”. Why do we listen?
The phrase “listen to understand not to respond” is commonly used regarding arguments. In an argument, it’s important to try to understand the other person’s point, instead of trying to come up with verbal bullets you can shoot back. James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (ESV)No matter what someone is sharing, the first motive of listening should be to understand. Not to respond. Click To Tweet
This is true for all situations. No matter what someone is sharing, the first motive of listening should be to understand. Not to respond.
I can’t count the times I’ve had to stop myself from trying to come up with “good advice” when someone was sharing a problem with me. Instead of being quick to respond, I want to put my focus on truly understanding what the other person is trying to tell me.
Look Into Their Eyes
One of the best ways to show that you care is to indicate you are giving them your undivided attention. Body language, in particular eye contact, is one of the biggest ways to show the other person that you are listening to what they are saying. Other little gestures can be to face the person or to nod.
Most of us know that moment when we glance away in the middle of listening and the person stops talking in the middle of their sentence. Why do they do that? They’ve noticed that we’re not actually listening. We’re not giving them our undivided attention.
When I find myself distracted and the person talking with me notices, I try to remember to apologize and once again use my body language to show that I am giving them undivided attention.
Don’t Check Your Phone
Just like eyes that dart around, having someone check their phone while you’re in the middle of a conversation is an unspoken signal that says you do not have their undivided attention.
I know it can be hard since our hands often reach for our phones without us even thinking about it. A way I have helped myself in this regard when I notice this habit coming to the surface is quite simple: I leave my phone out of reach. This could be at the bottom of a bag or even in another room when possible.
Although I tend to check my phone very often, if I’m being real, I have to admit that there really isn’t much of a reason for me to do so. In most situations, there is no message that needs my attention at that very moment and can’t wait twenty minutes until after I’ve finished the conversation.
“What Did You Want to Say?”
When a few people are having a conversation, it can often happen that two or three people start saying something at the same time. One person continues talking and the others often go unheard.
In those situations, I’ve started asking the other person what they were going to say, after the first has finished their thought. A simple “What were you going to say?” can show the other person you care, since you noticed they had something they wanted to share.
Listening to Show You Care
Gen Z, we need to become better at listening. Really listening. Listening well is a sign that we care and are loving others well.
(Bonus points if you remember what the other person said and refer to it later!)
Unlike people, God always listens. He’s always just a prayer away and even though He already knows what we are going to tell Him, He listens. Every time.
In striving to be more and more like Jesus in what we do, we need to work on our listening skills. Let’s be a generation that loves well by listening well.