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How is My Listening?

"Are you a good listener?"  We have people ask us when they want to tell us something.  Something soul pressing, something personally sacred, or something secret. 
If you are like me you ask yourself a lot, "Am I a good listener?"

I've found myself for years listening to people.  Trying to be a better listener.  It's an art. Listening.  
I enjoy knowing people.  I'm very relationally oriented.  I really do care and want to know peoples stories. I get a lot of satisfaction from relating to people.

But I'm not the best listener.  I think we all have work to do because we are all inherently selfish.  Selfishness pushes against listening.  Listening if it's true and pure is for the benefit of another and so listening is a way to practice selflessness.  If even for just a handful of moments. 
If you aren't the best listener there's hope for you and me!
Listening is something we can always learn and improve upon.  

Here's a few things I've noticed lately about listening...
1.  Make sure you should be listening.
I've had many people just open up to me. Easily. That I didn't expect. Because I do enjoy listening I've entered into a confidante relationship with them. Adults of all ages,teenagers, and kids.   This is well and good and my motives were pure, but it can be a storm center of trouble if you shouldn't be listening.  Ask God if you should be the listener.  Especially if it is someone that you wouldn't normally be listening to.  Something I read recently talked about "treasure."  You know the Bible passage that talks about wherever your treasure is your heart will be?  
They applied this to treasures of your inner heart too.
If you tell people your treasure, your heart will follow them.  You have now given them pieces of your heart. Even if you don't intend it or realize it.  If people know our treasure or the inner workings of our inner person, our heart will follow them.
It made so much sense to me. It's so true.  
So be careful whom you tell things to.  If it is important and sacred to you, your heart will follow. An attachment will grow. A bond.
Also, be careful whom you allow to tell you these things. 
The attachment works both ways. 
This could be healthy, good, and healing, but also disastrous.  
Just because you are a good listener doesn't mean it's your turn to listen.  Like a pastor told me this year, "Your strengths are your biggest opportunities  for weakness too." 
I nodded big.  He was so right 
Listening involves the opening up of two hearts, and that means your guard is down.  The Bible tells us above all else to guard our hearts.  So be careful when listening that your heart is safe.  And by safe I don't mean simply that the party is trustworthy or that you are trustworthy. By safe, I mean that your listening is within healthy boundaries of God's Word.  That you are safe to listen to them.  We are all unsafe people if we step outside of God's boundaries to help people.  If we do this, even if it starts with good and loving intentions we become unsafe people to them and we place our selves in unsafe territory.  
Really think about that.  If you want to show love to someone always do so within the boundaries of biblical love.  Otherwise you will in fact turn into something of a curse, not a blessing.  Something you never intended.  
Listening is an invitation into relational intimacy so take this act seriously.  Your heart follows.  

2.  Listening involves selflessness.
If you are the listening ear for a dear friend, child, parent, spouse, or even the elderly person you meet at the grocery store you need to be "all in" for those moments.
People always pick up on this.  And it wastes time.    
My oldest girl knows if you aren't listening.  If she is telling me some animated story or plan and I don't say much she cuts through my distraction quickly and says,"You aren't listening!" And she stops.  
I miss that precious time because I am not snapping out of my moments to give them to her.  
Give people eye contact and focused attention. We listen so much with body language.  And we listen with time.  It shows we don't really care when we can't carve out time to listen.
And many times we don't care.  
That's why listening is a practice in selflessness. 
So engage what people are saying.
Ask questions. 
Make sure to try to really get what they are saying.  To see the heart behind whatever is hurting or the back story they aren't saying.  Really care.
Many times we get to hear stories we have heard over and over again.  Especially if someone is walking through tumultuous times.  It gets old.  However, determine to give a few focused minutes of time.  Put a  parentheses around it.  A time to listen and then a time to move on from the conversation.  A starting and ending point.  But when you are in it, be in it.  Don't be distracted.  Ask God to help you to really care, even if you don't honestly care.  
Listening communicates to people that they matter.  And while the issue they are discussing may not personally matter to you, just listening communicates that the person is of great value.  It also is a great reminder to us that the world is much bigger than our personal lives and problems.  Everyone's life and personal struggles matter.  

3.  Be quick to listen in an argument.  

James 1:19 admonishes this, " Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry..."
I'm sure this principle applies in most social settings, but it definitely does in times of conflict.  If someone is upset with you make sure that you really listen to the why. We know this helps diffuse an argument rather than bulldozing our way through to express our opposing opinion.  Really digest "the why" someone is angry. Don't simply react to what their emotions might stir up within you in that moment.  Listening invites you to perspective.  It is like a fence creating  a boundary.  You stand outside and really view what is happening until you decide to cross over and explain your side, your perspective.  Listening lets you glimpse the root of an issue.  The talker is inviting you to see what lies beneath the surface.  And that takes courage.  

4.  Be quick to listen in times of trouble and slow to speak.  
Recently I have walked through a dark time with my sister.  She experienced a great trauma.  One I have never been through.  
I have been through some deep things over the years. And most recently this year.  But never this thing.  I've listened to her like I always do, but recently I've learned something valuable.  When we listen to hurting people don't project your pain onto them.  Sometimes we try to empathize by telling people we know how they feel. But we don't.  We want to help, but this doesn't. 
Because really our pain isn't the same as any one person's. I've seen that so much in the past year.  We can go through similar situations and deal with things much differently.  Pain is individual.  
So just listen.  
Job's friends were really okay for the days they sat with him in solidarity and just listened to his laments.  They ran into trouble when they opened their mouths.  


5.  If someone close to you is walking a rough terrain. Make sure your show up.  Even if it is ugly.  If you are a part of the circle of close friends and you don't show up to listen it communicates more than anything that you don't care.  Of course we all have done this because generally we don't know what to say.  So just show up and don't say anything, just hold hands or hearts. 

What do you think are the greatest qualities of a good listener?
Who has been that for you? 


  1. Hi Somer,
    I enjoyed this post on listening because I like to hear people's stories -- I'm genuinely interested -- yet I find myself hoping they finish so I can interject with my take on what they're saying. You're right that it's a selfish way to listen! I'm kind of a problem solver so when I hear a friend relate difficulty on a decision or problem, I jump in with a list of solutions, when really they just wanted a listener, not a solver!

    But I do think we do this because we genuinely care about the other person and what they're going -- you're right that we're relational people -- but there's always room for growth. I love how your daughter can tell when you're just humoring her or really listening and I love that she stops you in your tracks! Somer, I can tell you're probably harder on yourself about listening than it would appear to others since you genuinely care about people and model that for your girls! Listening is a lost art and I think you're probably very good at it! :) xo

  2. Wow, you have some really interesting thoughts here, Somer. I'm especially challenged to question whether I should be listening in certain situations. That is a good challenge, food for thought. And I also tend to be a problem solver! I do want to be a better listener!


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