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lis·tenˈlis(ə)n/

verb

  1. give one’s attention to a sound.
  2. make an effort to hear something; be alert and ready to hear something.

What is it? I’ve heard that in Chinese, “to listen” is expressed using the characters that include not only the ears but also eyes, undivided attention and the heart. (Christian Coach Institute).

Listening is what I do when I completely step away from myself and with authenticity, enter the very life of the person to whom I am listening. I suspend my own opinions, responses, judgment and analysis; I choose to hold their perspective. It is probably the most significant thing I can do every day to genuinely express love; to genuinely honor another person. It is being present.

Sometimes we can gain clarity by looking at what something is not.

  • Listening is not talking. Well, that seems obvious, right? But real listening is really not talking- even inside my own head. Not.talking.at.all.
  • Listening is not interrupting, even to ‘help’ the other person articulate themselves.
  • Listening is not solving. Research shows that when we try to solve as we listen instead of after we listen, our analytical brain processes are activated instead of our human-connection brain processes. This limits our ability to truly listen from a relational perspective and we can sometimes tend to dehumanize the situation. However, if we really listen – without solving – first, then with compassion and understanding, we can access the creative processes of our brain and design solutions with much more success.
  • Listening is not passive. It isn’t just hearing. It’s very active, very intentional, and at first, it’s really hard, focused, work.

Why does it matter? Our relationships are why listening matters. It matters because of what happens when we are really listened to. It is a deeply significant experience; it’s a rare experience.

  • Listening builds trust. This is the most important thing we can do to build and nurture the relationships that are so important to us. The brain environment conducive to building trust is significantly triggered when we know we’ve been heard. In contrast, when we feel we’ve not been heard, our brain automatically feels it must be on guard and trust is inhibited.
  • Listening builds creativity. The neurological process set into motion when we truly feel listened to results in a mindset that is creative, open to seeking new solutions, vision- oriented and characterized by optimism.
  • Listening reduces conflict. Research indicates that most of us do not regularly feel listened to and that often just knowing we’ve been heard will de-escalate a tense situation or resolve a conflict, even if we don’t get what we want. We know this to be true. How often do we find ourselves saying, “I don’t feel heard.” When this happens, we can quickly become lonely, sad, frustrated, or even angry. This is one of the biggest contributors to conflict in our relationships and society as a whole. (The Emotion Machine). 
  • Listening is like Christ. Listening is being present… really here… like Immanuel – God is WITH us… he listens, he is present. And when I am really giving myself through the gift of listening, I am allowing this Immanuel-life to flow through me.  And that matters a lot!
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What Can I Do About It? We can all identify with this drive, this longing to be heard – to be the listen-ee. And yet, few of us can also say this is true about our desire to be the listen-er. However, the most effective action I can take toward inviting another person to listen to me – – is for me to listen first … really listen.

Listening is a skill that can be developed and the first step is to simply be aware that good listening doesn’t always come naturally. Professional Christian coaches have identified four levels of listening for us to explore. What would it take to deepen our capacity for listening all the way through these levels?

  • Level I – Internal Listening. This is where 90% of listening happens. In this level, I am aware of myself. I am the main character. I listen through the filter of, “What does this mean to me?” or “How can I add to what I am hearing?” My thoughts, my feelings, my opinions, my reactions, my conclusions. At this level, I am mostly gathering information to meet my needs, or I am thinking about how my story compares, or I’m formulating how I will respond to what I’m hearing.
  • Level II – Focused Listening. At this level, you – the one I am listening to – are the main character. I am fully aware of you. I am listening to your words, your expressions, your emotions. I notice your energy and I’m curious to know more… about you. I want to understand exactly what you are saying so I reflect back to you what I hear and check for accuracy and understanding. I invite you to give further explanation. I don’t judge or argue or react. I am immersed in what you are saying. I am focused on you.
  • Level III – Big Picture Listening. This is advanced listening. At this level, I’m listening to more than what you are actually saying… I’m hearing your body language, I’m paying attention to your expressions, I’m aware of what you are not saying, I’m making a place for you to explore what you may be thinking or feeling; I’m allowing silence. I am completely committed to your safety.
  • Level IV – Listening to the Spirit. At this level, we are aware that God is a part of our conversation and we are intentionally making space for him there. We are listening to what he may be bringing to the conversation and we are sensitive to the solutions or ideas he may be inviting us to. There is complete safety as we explore together what God may be revealing or sharing with us. Creative solutions are discovered here. This is where visions are caught and we are inspired.

What would happen if we had a ‘Listening Revolution?’ What would it mean if we were known as ‘people who listen?’ What would we have to give up in order to be truly ‘present’ in our conversations? What conflicts might be diffused? What relationships might be restored? What creativity might be tapped?

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Resources for improving our Listening Skills:

— Submitted by: Cindy Schmelzenbach, Regional Member Care Coordinator