by Kent Sanders
One evening a few months ago, I was sitting on the couch with my laptop when my wife Melanie came home from work. She sat down and I asked how her day was. She proceeded to share some events from her day while I continued to write and listen to her at the same time.
She talked for about 10 minutes, and there was a slight pause. Then the conversation went something like this:
Me: “So, you had a pretty good day?”
Melanie: “What? No, I didn’t have a good day! I just spent several minutes telling you how bad it was!”
The truth is that I hadn’t been listening at all. I heard her talking but was completely disengaged from the conversation.
It seems increasingly harder for us to listen to one another. We are constantly distracted by our phones, computers, and the chaos of the world around us. But technology and media can never replace authentic human relationships. One of the most important ways to express the value of those relationships is by listening to others.
Listen to this simple and direct teaching from James:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. [James 1.19-20, ESV]
These verses may be simple to understand but they’re hard to put into practice. Here are 10 tips to help you be “quick to hear, slow to speak” in your conversations:
1. Be genuinely interested in the other person. Every person is inherently interesting, and everyone has a story to share. There is something to learn from everyone.
2. Be fully present, mentally and emotionally. It’s easy to fake being interested while half-heartedly paying attention. Put down your phone, look the other person in the eye, and focus completely on what they’re saying.
3. Empathize with the other person. When you empathize, you are not only listening to facts, you’re trying to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective.
4. Restate what the other person is saying in your own words. This helps them know you’re paying attention and affirms that you’re listening.
5. Don’t try to offer solutions (unless they ask for one). As a man, I am often guilty of this since guys always want to “fix things.” But most people don’t want a solution; they want someone to listen and empathize with their feelings and perspective.
6. Take the time to listen. Slow down enough to be fully engaged in the conversation. Don’t think about all the things you have to do, or your next appointment. If you don’t have time to listen attentively, set another time when you can be fully present.
7. Assume you can learn something from the other person. It’s easy to categorize others into those whom we enjoy being around, and those whom we perceive as burdens on our time. But in most conversations, you can learn something or take away a new insight if you are searching for it.
8. Don’t project the conversation in your head. Have you ever been talking to someone and played the entire conversation out in your head before it’s done? This is a surefire way to kill a genuine connection with someone.
9. Make a game out of it. This may sound silly, but it can be a fun way to improve your listening skills. Challenge yourself to pay attention and to fully engage in the conversation. See how long you can go without thinking about something else.
10. Have a servant attitude. Above all, listening is a way to serve others and show the compassion and love of Christ. When you look at prayer from the perspective of God listening to us, the least we can do is return the favor by listening to His children!
Today you will likely have a conversation with someone. (That is, unless you’re a hermit and never talk to anyone.) Challenge yourself to be truly present in your next conversation. It’s a great opportunity to practice your listening skills, which is one of the powerful ways to build relationships and let people know you care.
Kent Sanders writes on art and creativity at ArtistsSuitcase.com. He is also Professor of Worship at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, MO. You can connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter. When you subscribe to the Artist’s Suitcase you will receive a free Artist’s Manifesto, a study guide and an EP of 5 songs!
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