Vulnerability is an essential ingredient of strong relationships. I’ve heard that a hundred times, and it’s true. But vulnerability only builds relationships in the presence of good listening skills.
If you know me personally, don’t judge the value of what I’m about to say by your personal experience with me. I’m not particularly good at this, but my awareness has gone up so now I need to take responsibility to work on it.
What’s going on in your head when you’re “listening” to someone? Here are some of the things I catch myself doing:
- Trying to “fix” your problem
- Figuring out what I’m going to say next
- Thinking about what I’m doing later today
- Reflecting on things that happened earlier
- Internally “rolling my eyes” as you repeat what I’ve heard you say many times before
- Letting my mind wander off into space
Any of those sound familiar? Maybe you think that’s just normal listening. I suggest they are evidences of sloppy listening. Unfortunately, sloppy listening has become an acceptable norm.
Good listening is hard work, but deep, meaningful relationships require it. Here are four listening principles I’m working on:
- Recognize it’s not my job to “fix” you. Unasked for advise is called “criticism”. Don’t assume my advice is wanted just because you mention a problem. This takes humility, since my ego is stroked when I get to offer my solutions. I tend to think that whatever pops into my head is the Holy Spirit prompting me to help you, but often He’s trying to teach me, not you. Is my goal really to help you, or to make me look wise? A good test is that I tend to deliver my words with pride but God’s words will clothe me in humility.
- Deep relationships are connected with emotional strings. I need to listen for your emotions as well as your words. And what emotions are triggered in me by your story? When I have a chance to respond, I can reflect elements of your story that connected with me and tell you how they made me feel. That’s much more relational than giving advice.
- Encourage you with the strengths I observe in your story. Sometimes we don’t recognize how God has blessed us until someone else points it out. When I was in sixth grade, a classmate read a paper I wrote and commented that I was a good writer. I hadn’t thought of myself as a writer before, but I’ve remembered that comment thousands of times over the past 40+ years, and it always spurs me to keep writing. Be a blessing by pointing out how God has blessed others.
- Don’t turn the spotlight on myself. My tendency is to try to top your story with my own, or tell how I would handle your situation. But I need to learn to let the spotlight stay on you. Another test of humility!
Don’t fix, emotionally connect, encourage, and keep the spotlight on the other person. Listen well!