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Small-Community Ideas that Work: The Art and Skill of Listening

ListeningHave you ever been talking and wondered if the other person was listening? It’s often not hard to tell: there is no direct eye contact or the arms are folded over. There’s also the absence of interjections—“uh-huh,” “yes,”—and when the opportunity for laughter in response to something silly and disconnected is met with dead silence, you know the other is not listening.
Listening is a skill and one that can be developed. Much of what is needed is “getting out of the way” and letting the other person have your undivided attention. For some of us, this is a challenge, especially when the voice, topic, or person speaking is not our cup of tea.
However, if we want to be respectful there are things we can do to listen better. In taking these steps, we may be surprised at how engaged we can be and what we can both give and gain from listening.
Time is at the top of the list. Make sure the time is right; if it’s not, make the time or plan for another time to connect.
Consider these questions:

  • Have you ever been on the phone when the person you’re speaking to starts talking to someone else?
  • Have you ever tried to share a meaningful experience with someone who is multi-tasking while “listening” to you?
  • Have you ever been interrupted while telling a story by someone who finishes it for you?

These are all examples of when “the time is not right.”
Concentrate on the experience of the person who is speaking. Though you may have had a similar experience, remember that “similar” is not “same.” Listen for what was different; listen for the feelings the speaker is expressing; pay attention to the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Your focus should be on the other. With practice, you will find that you can find a way to be engaged.
Speak to express your interest, affirm, or paraphrase what’s been said. Ask questions for clarification, and absolutely offer eye contact.
Effective listening is a precious gift. Many of us are not looking for advice but instead for someone willing to share in our stories, our lives, our joys, or our struggles. We want to be known, even in small ways. It’s human to want to connect.
May your connections—those you give and those given to you, be they one-on-one or in a small group—be rooted in the conviction that every child of God is worthy of our attention. May you regard the gift of listening as a precious and valued treasure.
From Sowing Seeds: Essentials for Small Community Leaders, based on On Listening to Another by Douglas V. Steere

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12 Responses to “Small-Community Ideas that Work: The Art and Skill of Listening”

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