Radical Listening – not what you thought

05/27/2011 .
Helen Mitchell  .  Director of Workplace Ministry

Ever felt like the person you were talking to was a great listener – they heard what you said and also seemed to know just what you were experiencing? How did that feel? Probably pretty good, because few motives are as powerful as the desire to be known and understood by others.

Good listeners not only take in information but also validate the other person’s experience. Unfortunately, most of us really are not good compassionate listeners.

A small group should be a safe place to be vulnerable and transparent. How we listen to one another creates that environment of safety, acceptance, love and trust. When someone is sharing something deep, personal and important to them, they are opening their very life to you. How you respond as a listener will either leave them feeling accepted or feeling isolated.

Five common mistakes:

  1. Turning the focus of the conversation from the person to ourselves – It is not about you.  “That reminds me of the time…” or “Let me tell you what happened…” or…..
  2. Dismissing what they said and how they feel about what they said.  “Don’t feel that way….” or “Too bad….” or “I’ll pray for you…!”
  3. Minimizing their experience or pain.  “It’s not that bad….” or “It will all work out…remember Romans 8:28…” or “I have a friend who went through the same thing….” 
  4. Looking around while they are talking, greeting passersby or texting and emailing when they are talking to you. 
  5. Trying to solve it for them. “Well, if I were you…” or “Haven’t we talked about this before?” 

Five practices of a great listener:

  1. Show compassion. When we grasp what they are trying to say we’re building a bond of understanding and trust. 
    Reflect back to them both what it is you heard them say and how it makes them feel. Don’t sensationalize, minimize or add to what they told you. Sometimes just saying, “I’m sorry…” is what they need.
  2. Let them talk – don’t interrupt. The details of who, what, where, when and why are generally for our benefit and do nothing to give the other person space to share their burden or joy.
  3. Ask for clarification and/or restating what it is they said. Sometimes the person will talk fast and let it all spill out like a fire hydrant leaving you feel wind whipped. It is okay to interrupt with, “Wait a minute. I want to be sure I understand this….” And then try to restate what they told you and how they felt, to make sure you got it.
  4. Be physically present. Face the person and maintain eye contact. Watch your posture – unfold your arms and legs. 
  5. Don’t try to fix their problem or join them in criticizing and judging others. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15 (NIV)