Listening Skills

All quality communications studies include listening skills and biblically we are directed to listen and listen wisely.

James 1:9 says

9 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
Proverbs 1:5 – “let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance—“

In most studies about listening the focus is on the individual functions associated with listening and what someone is trying to say. These are important and something we will address, however in this study, the focus, and I believe God’s priority, is our attitude about listening and doing things God’s way, the right way. Before we improve our listening skills we must first have a sincere desire to be a ‘great listener’, and as we stated in the introduction this is a learned skill and one we should intentionally want to improve.
In The Art of Managing People by P. Hunsaker, he had a segment on listening skills, that had a section titled ‘The nineteen commandments of good listening’ and then a 21 question self-survey you are to answer after each conversation. Now self-evaluation is an essential tool but what we really need is to Intentionally discover what the other person is trying to convey. In another management improvement book, they had a section that was labeled the ‘five tricks to good listening’.

To be great listener there are no tricks, and we do not have to remember 19 commandments with 21 post conversation self-survey questions. You must genuinely care about the person in your conversations and what and why they are saying it.
Why is listening such an important skill? Studies from the University of Missouri tell us that 70% of our waking hours are devoted to some form of communications and 45% of this time is spent listening, 30%speaking, 16% reading, and 9% writing. If I break this down correctly if we are awake 16 hours a day that means you spend over 5 hours every day listening! I know in some cases this is torture. One of the reasons we struggle listening according to the University of Missouri people speak about 125 words a minute, but we have the mental capacity to understand 400 words a minute. Again, this means we use only 31% of our capacity to listen so we are easily distracted so we need to concentrate, and decide to listen. 
Who here has been in a conversation with someone that listens well and what traits do they exhibit while there are listening? They are concerned, encouraging; they do not interrupt, not in a hurry to get their point across. They make you feel what you are saying is important. When we are in a conversation with someone who is distracted and not listening what do we see? They look distracted and are looking around; talk before your point is made, their mind is obviously not on the conversation. This can be very annoying. Have you been in a situation where your mind was wondering and then just as you focus on the conversation someone asks you what you think? A little awkward.
The way to become a quality listener is interesting. One of the issues that keeps us from improving our listening is that many of us already think we are good listeners. So, we need to ask someone close (and honest) if we are good listeners, and then we have to be ready for the answer. This is what may happen: you ask someone close to you if they think you are a good listener. There is an awkward silence, and you are startled. Then you probably start challenging the other person and describe why you are a good listener before they can get in another word. To be a good listener, we must focus on listening to the person who is talking and understanding what they are saying and more importantly what message they want you to understand and why.
Proverbs 18:1 “He who answers before listening—
that is his folly and his shame.”

You are in a conversation with several people and are disturbed that the boss has been particularly difficult because you were late on your last project updating the company website on a new customer service policy. One of the people in the conversation says ‘That reminds me, I got horrible customer service at the grocery store last night, let me tell you about it’ and she interrupts your venting time to tell her story. Very annoying. I know this happens to all of us, someone interrupts you while you are trying to make a point, and they clearly did not understand or care what you were trying to say. Let’s not be this person!

The next step to being a great listener is to determine what point the other person is trying to make. What message are they trying to send? We must clearly understand what the other person is trying to say. This is especially true in witnessing. When you witness, you must listen and understand what that person views are, witnessing to an unsaved person that has never read or cared about the Bible and witnessing to someone that is a consistent churchgoer but has yet to accept Christ as savior are two completely different conversations, so if we listen well we can discover the best way to witness.
Effective listening means to understand fully the message the other person is trying to send.
Questions you should ask yourself as you listen.
What message is the person trying to convey?
What are the important points they are trying to make?
From what context are they coming?
What is their life’s situation?
What is their relationship with God?
Earlier we discussed the individual functions we associate with becoming very good listeners. These functions are also important to quality listening but again not as important as caring about what message the person is sending to you.

  1. Remove all physical and circumstantial distractions: [Yes gentlemen that means put the remote and cell phone down, turn off the TV and close the computer when having a meaningful discussion with your wife]
  2. Clear your mind and prepare for this specific conversation.
  3. Concentrate on the person, do not look around, check phone, shuffle papers, etc.
  4. Ask questions to understand fully what they are saying, repeat if necessary.
  5. Do not start formulating an answer while the other person is speaking. You cannot talk and listen at the same time.
  6. Avoid interrupting the speaker.
  7. You may dislike the message, but do not dislike the speaker.
  8. Watch for non-verbal communications, a smile, frown, excitement.

In Ecclesiastics 3:7 we read

7a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

Listening is a learned skill and improves with practice. When we listen well, we may be very surprised how much we can learn. And we can use this knowledge to continue to communicate better.