We don’t spend a lot of time listening in our culture. It’s all about broadcasting the latest opinions, capturing the latest soundbite, making sure others know you’re in the know. For a world that has the highest level of instantaneous communication in history, it sure is an unfriendly and lonely place. Because in a world full of voices, ironically people don’t get heard, much less intentionally listened to. And that can short-circuit even good friendships.
Think of a time when you really felt cared for. Chances are someone focused on what you had to say, was attentive to your needs, and listened to how you felt instead of telling you how you should feel or what you should do.
Listening demonstrates that you care about the other person. In Stephen Ministry, a great deal of time is spent in teaching and practicing listening skills because of its importance as a caregiving tool. You too can become a more caring listener by understanding and applying these six listening concepts from Stephen Ministry training:
- Listening is active. It takes energy and commitment to listen really well. Focus your attention on what the other person has to say instead of thinking of what you’ll say next. Look at him or her while you listen, and nod along from time to time so the person knows you’re tuned in.
- Listening takes patience. Often you need to build trust before someone will open up to you. Constant, patient listening is a key.
- Listening involves more than just words. Pay attention not only to what is said, but to what is not said or to what is said with a smile or a sigh. Pay attention to body language, too. Does it agree with or contradict a person’s spoken words?
- Good listeners aren’t completely silent. They restate key thoughts or ideas to be sure they understood correctly or ask focused questions to encourage the person to reach a little deeper.
- Listening happens over time. One conversation might build upon an earlier one. As you listen over several conversations, are there any recurring themes or patterns in what the person has said? Are there any contradictions from what was said earlier? These are signs there may be more to explore underneath.
- Listening is confidential. A great way to build that trust and to show the person you really care for him or her is to maintain confidentiality and not to share with others what was told to you in private conversation.
Jesus was the model of a good listener. You would think the Savior of the world would have a lot to say…and he did! But that makes it all the more striking considering how much he listened. Much of his ministry was simply listening to people. By listening to what people had to say he demonstrated how much he really cared about them. Remember the stories of the woman at the well, Nicodemus, or the disciples on the road to Emmaus. All were times when Jesus showed his care and concern by first listening to people and then giving them what they needed.
We all want Immanuel to be a caring place where members and guests truly feel people care about who they are and how they feel. We have launched and trained our first class of Stephen Ministers in an effort to make Immanuel a more caring community. If you are interested in becoming a Stephen Minister, talk to me (Pastor Jonathan)! If you think that you would like to receive care (and be heard!) by a Stephen Minister, talk to me!
Just as our Stephen Ministers use good listening skills to communicate how much they care, so can you. Follow and practice these listening principles and make a concentrated effort toward becoming a better listener. Listening is a great gift we can give to one another, and one we can all use in order to make Immanuel, our friendships, and our world a more caring place.